WASHINGTON _ A small team of executives from Massachusettsbiotechnology companies met with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.)on Monday and said that in a few weeks he may publicly announce hissupport for an alternative to the so-called "breakthrough drugcommittee."Industry representatives are working with Kennedy to craft a proposalfor a multi-year study of the economic impact of new medicaltechnologies, including drugs, on the health care system. The studymight be conducted by a government agency such as the Office ofTechnology Assessment (OTA) or the Agency for Health Care Policyand Research (AHCPR) or by an independent advisory organizationsuch as the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine."The idea is to produce real data to validate the notion that innovationand cost containment are not incompatible," said Lisa Raines, vicepresident of government relations for Genzyme Corp in Cambridge,Mass. "Discussions about the costs of medical technologies, in terms ofthe benefits to society and improvement in patient outcomes, havetaken place in an intellectual vacuum."The results of such a study might sate the short-term appetites ofpolitical proponents of price controls by setting in motion a thoroughgovernment review of the costs and savings of new medicaltechnologies. Raines said the study would likely take years to completeand it would be premature for Congress to legislate new medicaltechnology without the data in hand. However, there's no guaranteethat Congress won't act to legislate drug prices in the meantime, shesaid."I am optimistic that Kennedy will agree to delete the breakthroughdrug committee [from his committee's health care plan] and insert thisalternative in its place," Raines told BioWorld. "It's a good idea evenseparate from the breakthrough drug committee." A partial list ofindustry attendees at Monday's meeting in Kennedy's downtownBoston office included Henri Termeer, Genzyme's chief executiveofficer; Gabriel Schmergel, chief executive officer of Genetics Institutein Cambridge; Mark Goldberg, president and chief executive officer ofthe Molecular Biology Research Institute in Worcester; and MarkSkaletsky, chief executive officer of Geltex Pharmaceutical inLexington.Winning Kennedy's support could be a crucial victory forbiotechnology advocates and lobbyists. Kennedy chairs the Labor andHuman Resources Committee, one of two key senate committees withjurisdiction over health care reform. Although most of the legislativeaction on health care reform to date has emanated from the House,many believe that the Senate may produce a bipartisan bill with a betterchance of passing both chambers."There's been a lot of action in the House but in the Senate things haveclearly been moving slower for the biotech industry," Schmergel toldBioWorld.Kennedy hails from a state with approximately 150 biotechnologycompanies that employ 17,600 people, according to Janice Bourque,administrative director of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council.He is currently in the midst of a reelection campaign. Raines said thatpublic support for the biotechnology or pharmaceutuical industry couldbe a "dicey political proposition" for Kennedy because it could offeropponents a ready-made campaign issue.The proposal for a 13-member government committee to review the"reasonableness" of prices for new drugs first surfaced in PresidentClinton's Health Security Act last fall. White House spokeswomanLorrie McHugh told BioWorld that the committee was conceived withconsumers in mind. "The administration wants to protect consumersand to provide access to prescription drugs at affordable prices. We feelwe put forth a good approach to achieve accessibility andaffordability," she said.Although Kennedy has supported the president's plan, he has alsolistened to the pleas of biotechnology industry representatives from hisstate. They have argued that the government should let market forcesset drug prices and that price controls are a "life or death" issue for theindustry.Kennedy's meeting with biotechnology representatives comes on theheels of the announcement by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) last weekthat he will oppose a breakthrough drug committee. Dingell chairs theHouse Energy and Commerce Committee and is waging a campaign towin enough votes in that committee to pass a version of health carereform.But many argue that Dingell's move was more an acknowledgement ofpolitical reality and an attempt to win swing votes than an expressionof his deep-held philosophy. In contrast, Kennedy does not need todelete any particular elements from a health care reform bill in order towin votes on his liberal committee."He recognizes the legitimate concerns of the biotechnology industryand wants to address them in a responsible way while at the same timehe is concerned about prices and costs to consumers," explainedRaines. "This proposal allows a third party to study the issue of costs ina thoughtful and well-researched way."Winning Kennedy's support will not mean that the battle over pricecontrols is won for the biotechnology or pharmaceutical industries. Aneditorial in The Wall Street Journal on Monday hailed Dingell'sopposition to drug price control mechanisms, but cautioned, "Controlson drug prices are a perennially popular goal for politicians, so this[idea] may be back before the voting stops."
-- Lisa Piercey Washington Editor
(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.