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An Ad Blitz That Really Worked?

Biotech Industry Gets a Big Win on Biologics

A highly targeted lobbying and advertising campaign by the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries paid off this week when a Senate panel writing health care reform legislation swung their way on the issue of biologic drugs.

The drugmakers’ campaign focused on several key Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee with a message largely based on how their industry creates and keeps jobs back home.

The industries were pushing for at least 12 years of market exclusivity for some of their most lucrative biotech drugs before the products could face competition from generics.

They got it, but since the matter will continue in the House and Senate, neither they nor their opponents are resting.

A coalition of seniors, consumer groups, pharmacy benefit managers and health insurers support language that would provide fewer years of exclusivity before competing generic biologics could enter the marketplace — and presumably drive down costs. An amendment by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) would have granted about five to seven years of monopoly.

On Monday night, the HELP Committee approved an amendment that would grant the products 12 years of market monopoly. Sens. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) championed the effort, and nearly all of the Democratic Senators on the committee who were targeted by the Biotechnology Industry Organization and its allies voted for the amendment.

“We are definitely pleased with the outcome,— said BIO spokesman Jeff Joseph, who noted that in the past week alone his group spent about $500,000 on advertising in selected states. It used the Harbour Group for communications and advertising strategy. “It is the result of a lot of hard work, a lot of footwork, lobbying and communications strategy over the past couple of years.—

BIO’s advertising campaign also targeted the media markets of HELP Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Democratic Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and Jack Reed (R.I.). BIO also focused ads on committee Republicans including Sens. Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Mike Enzi (Wyo.), who along with Hagan sponsored the amendment that passed Monday night.

Heidi Wagner, an in-house lobbyist with California-based Genentech, chairs a coalition that includes BIO, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and many individual companies in the sector. She said that the effort has been intense for the past couple of years and has focused on generating grass roots and grass tops in states.

“This is really company-driven, and it’s been very effective,— Wagner said. “We’ve worked hard together to really maximize our presence in some of these states that are focused on creating jobs and excited by the science and what we’re doing for patients.—

The amendment passed the HELP Committee by a 16-7 margin with nine Republicans and seven Democrats voting in favor, and five Democrats, one Independent and one Republican, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), voting against it.

“Once we saw the Members were being educated for what it meant for cures and jobs in their states, I think that ultimately won the day,— said one biotech lobbyist involved in the issue. “We explained to these Members that the biotech industry is a newer industry, working on breakthrough products. And we explained to them where all the companies were located, all across the United States, and that the jobs are those that pay well above the national average. We found more and more Senators getting more and more interested in this debate.—

In a statement e-mailed from her office before the amendment passed, Mikulski said, “These jobs are the kind of innovative, high-tech jobs that we need to keep in Maryland and in America.—

But Brown, in a conference call with reporters, said he’s not giving up.

“They run a lot of ads,— Brown said of the biopharma effort. “That’s really all I know. I don’t ask my colleagues what happened in their way of thinking. … The pharmaceutical industry, especially the biologic-biotech industry, has an awful lot of power in the halls of Congress.—

Brown added that he expects lawmakers and the public alike will hear more from the Obama administration, which supports fewer years — seven — of market exclusivity for generic biologics.

The president also will mobilize his grass-roots organization to start calling on Congressional offices, Brown predicted. “I think that will have a tremendous impact,— Brown said.

AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond said the fewer years of exclusivity is a priority for the powerful seniors’ lobby. “We obviously are deeply disappointment that the provision will be in the HELP bill,— LeaMond said. “Obviously we have a number of concerns, but this is a major concern for us. We’re going to continue to work hard on it with [Brown] and others to get to a good number.—

Meanwhile, much focus is shifting over to the House. A bill by Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) would grant fewer years of exclusivity than a proposal by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) that gives 12 years, which has garnered more co-sponsors so far.

Mark Merritt, president of the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, which opposes the HELP Committee amendment giving 12 years exclusivity, said his group on Tuesday began airing rapid-response ads inside the Beltway and is figuring out which Members to target back home.

“I think it shows that the president has a lot of work to do, that Congress has a lot of work to do to develop something they can call real reform, because this isn’t it,— Merritt said of the HELP Committee’s bill. “This is hardly the real change that voters were expecting. This raises serious questions about Washington’s capacity for real change because it makes Washington look captive to special interests, and I think this is a very disturbing sign for the prospects for health reform and what kind of reform we might expect.—