Drug Firms Offer Government Antibiotics to Treat Anthrax
After meeting with HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson last Friday, many pharmaceutical industry executives agreed to provide free or discounted antibiotics to the U.S. government to treat anthrax victims, CongressDaily reports (CongressDaily, 10/26). Several drug companies also said that they would "lend" the federal government their scientists and their laboratories and manufacturing facilities. Government and drug industry officials also agreed to establish a joint bioterrorism task force to "explore future avenues of research" (Ornstein, Los Angeles Times, 10/27). In addition, drug companies promised to "step up production" of a smallpox vaccine and the vaccine for influenza, a disease that people could mistake for anthrax, which can have similar symptoms (CongressDaily, 10/26).
The New York Times reports that the companies' offers "reflect a clear political agenda" and may allow pharmaceutical firms to "slow legislative momentum" that existed before Sept. 11 to "reshape the prescription drug market," including "lower[ing] prices on patented medicines and ... wide[ning the] availability of generic alternatives." For example, pointing to "heightened concern about [drug] safety" in the wake of the anthrax incidents, Martin Corry, director of federal affairs at AARP, said that the incidents may help drug companies fight legislation that would allow pharmacists and wholesalers to reimport from abroad pharmaceuticals that meet U.S. safety standards. But Rep. James Greenwood (R-Pa.) said that because "[p]eople are more aware [now] of their reliance on drugs," the incidents may help the drug industry's "standing on Capitol Hill" (Bradsher/Petersen, New York Times, 10/27).
Many of the offers for free or discounted antibiotics are contingent on FDA approval of the drugs as treatments for anthrax in addition to their general uses, which would allow drug companies to label and advertise the drugs as anthrax treatments and thereby "tap into profits" from the nation's fear of the disease, the Los Angeles Times reports. Last week, Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. offered the government free antibiotics in exchange for FDA approval of the drugs as anthrax treatments. Lars Noah, a visiting law professor at Georgetown University, called the offers a "thinly veiled effort to get some quid pro quo that ... could be a quite large marketing opportunity" (Los Angeles Times, 10/27). However, Peter Dolan, chair and CEO of Bristol-Myers, said that the company has "no intention to make any profits on bioterorrism" (CongressDaily, 10/26). "What we're looking to do is the right thing," he added (New York Times, 10/27). Pfizer Inc., Abbott Laboratories and Pharmacia Corp. also have asked for new anthrax labeling but have not made them change a condition of their offers for free or discounted antibiotics to the government (Los Angeles Times, 10/27).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.