SCHERING-PLOUGH: Patent Legislation Delayed for One Week
Although legislation that could lead to a patent extension for Schering-Plough's allergy drug Claritin was scheduled for mark-up in the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy (VT), Charles Schumer (NY) and Richard Durbin (IL) delayed its consideration yesterday for one week. The move has some questioning whether the bill will be considered at all during this session, as Congress is hoping to adjourn tomorrow. The legislation would create a special review board within the Patent and Trademark Office to determine whether certain drugs are unfairly denied patent life by delays in the FDA office. Leahy, the committee's ranking member, said, "We failed to make affordable prescription drugs a priority, but we're making unaffordable prescription drugs a priority? [The legislation] is just the opposite of what the American public wants us to do" (Rovner, CongressDaily, 11/10). Schumer added, "For allergy sufferers this is like taking a $100 bill out of their wallets" (Davies, Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/11). Durbin said that the "proposal cannot stand on its own merits." The three senators vowed to thwart any effort to attach the proposal to last-minute budget bills, writing a letter to President Clinton urging him to "ensure that this anti-consumer and anti-health care legislation does not see last-minute success" (CongressDaily, 11/10). The proposal also won Durbin's "Midnight Mackerel Award" for being "one of those last-minute maneuvers that rises to the level of a rotten mackerel, shining and stinking in the moonlight." Sen Robert Torricelli (D-NJ), the bill's co-sponsor, denied there would be any attempt to attach the proposal to a budget bill. He said, "The votes are there in the committee, whether it's next week or next year" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/11). He added, "I make no apologies for offering this legislation. The profits of these corporations are going to eventually cure cancer and deal with heart disease and diabetes and a number of other afflictions" (Arnold, AP/Nando Times, 11/10). Schering-Plough has spent $11 million across the last three years lobbying Congress and the White House administration, also contributing $1 million to campaign funds (Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/11). Mora Kealey of Citizens Action said, "'Money talks' is business as usual on Capitol Hill. But for this much money to be talking so loudly is, I think, the distinction that is a difference" ("Nightly News," NBC, 11/10).
Schering-Plough's lobbying efforts are a "vivid illustration of the way big money has become proxy in Congress for argument," a Washington Post editorial states. Although Schering-Plough's claim that the FDA delayed approving Claritin "is a plausible one," the editorial asks, "why should it have taken a blizzard of favors to get this elementary attention? In the political money sink, things are no better for the lobbyist than for the lobbyee" (11/9).
The Los Angeles Times adds its two cents, saying that adding the proposal to appropriations legislation would be "hugely irresponsible." The editorial asserts that "patients, not patents, ... are in need of congressional protection," noting that Schering-Plough reported $1.8 billion in profits last year and the pharmaceutical industry now is the most profitable industry in the U.S. (11/9).