WASHINGTON _ In its first year of operation in 1993, theBiotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), opened its doors as atypical small Washington trade association. Its budget was nearlyentirely earmarked for payroll and lobbying expenses. Likewise, thevast majority of its staff concentrated on lobbying Capitol Hill,working with the FDA and educating the public and press aboutbiotechnology issues.

That has changed quickly and BIO has the potential of evolvingfurther in the next few months because of what many Washingtonwags are calling an "implosion" at the Pharmaceutical Research andManufacturers of America (PhRMA), which has lost its top staffers inrecent weeks.

BIO's President Carl Feldbaum confirmed that the number ofinquiries at BIO from big pharmaceutical companies has increasedrecently. "We are seeing a lot of large company issues that arecoming across the radar screen. I don't know what to attribute thatto. I don't know if it is related to the situation at PhRMA," he toldBioWorld Today.

PhRMA did not return calls for an interview with BioWorld Today.

PhRMA's staffing problems complicate its fiscal woes. Theassociation has been buffeted financially in the past two years as itsmembership base shrinks due to consolidations and buy-outs.

According to BIO's most recent tax filling, the association spent $3.8million in its 1993 fiscal year ending June 30, 1994. That budget,funded primarily by membership dues, grew in one year by 29percent to $4.9 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1995.Details on BIO's 1994 budget will be available in a few weeks.

Last month PhRMA lost its top lobbyists with the forced departure ofexecutive vice president Steve Conafay immediately after the surpriseresignation of his top aide Linda Nersessian. Soon after, GeraldMossinghoff, president, announced his resignation, pushing up thedate of his anticipated departure by several months.

Because PhRMA won't have a lobbying staff until the new presidentcan select his or her staff, the association remains without lobbyingpresence on Capitol Hill.

The lack of a lobbying voice for the large drug makers has left apolitical void in Washington that BIO may be asked to fill.

"It is clear that PhRMA is in disarray. Its lobbying efforts show it. Bycontrast, many members of Congress are comfortable dealing withBIO. The association has handled itself well in the last three years.Industry leaders George Rathman [President and CEO of Icos Corp.,of Bothell, Wash.] and Henri Termeer [President and CEO ofGenzyme Corp., of Cambridge, Mass.] have been effectivespokesmen," said an industry insider.

BIO's better relations on Capitol Hill may be a function of manyCongressmen having a biotech company in their home districts whilethe big pharma houses are concentrated on the east coast, observed aformer lobbyist for a large drug company that just merged withanother. "It's a matter of winning the numbers game," he stated.

It's not clear if large pharma houses will find BIO an attractiveaffiliation, perhaps not to replace its PhRMA membership but tosharpen its representation on key issues.

If these giant drug manufacturers seek a place at the table at BIO,which has traditionally sought to sustain the interests of its emergingcompanies, it may cause some tensions within the association.However, any differences on issues may be contained by BIO's by-laws which explicitly give the smaller companies with fewer than 50members control of one-third of the 36-member board and the rightto name members to the executive committee. n

-- Michele L. Robinson Washington Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.