WASHINGTON -- Ever since the debate began over drug pricecontrols under health-care reform, the biotechnology industryhas wanted its needs to be considered separately from those ofthe pharmaceutical industry. In contrast, pharmaceuticalmanufacturers frequently have tried to align themselves withthe biotechnology industry, which is held in high regard bymany in Congress.
The Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (PMA) is "notviewed terribly sympathetically by people in D.C.," Lisa Raines,vice president for government relations at Genzyme Corp.,recently told BioWorld. One reason is that during the 1980s,PMA companies consistently raised prices considerably aboveinflation rate, and biotechnology does not want to be tarredwith that brush.
Nonetheless, biotechnology is careful not to create animositybetween itself and the PMA when some common interests areat stake.
During a hearing of the Senate Labor and Human ResourcesCommittee last week, when Charles Sanders, chairman andchief executive officer of Glaxo Inc. attacked the breakthroughdrug committee, the intersection of the industries' interestswas evident.
Twenty years ago, Glaxo had embarked on basic research ofserotonin, said Sanders, which 17 years later resulted in a drugthat relieves cancer chemotherapy patients of nausea andvomiting.
"Under the constraints of a breakthrough drug committee, I'mnot sure I would make that decision," he said.
But later, under questioning from Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., thepharmaceutical industry played avid suitor to biotechnology'sreluctant debutant.
"Just what is the difference between biotechnology andpharmaceutical companies," Dodd wanted to know.
Ironically, pharmaceutical industry representatives got torespond first. "Biotechnology is just that, a technology," saidSanders. But a pharmaceutical company cannot do without it inthe '90s, he averred. Researchers use it to define biologicalsystems to rationalize the search for traditional simplepharmaceutical chemicals that can be taken orally.
On the other hand, biotechnology's products are proteins,"something you have to take by injection," Sanders said. "Wecould produce biotechnology," he continued, "but ourorientation is oral."
Mitchel Sayare, chairman and chief executive officer ofImmunoGen Inc. of Cambridge, Mass, represented thebiotechnology industry. Dodd steered a reluctant Sayare todescribe the economic distinctions between the two industries.
"We are fragile," Sayare responded. "It's difficult to create afive-year plan because we don't know if we will be around."Additional risks created by the proposed Advisory Council onBreakthrough drugs could easily scare off investors, he said.
Unlike pharmaceutical companies, which fund R&D fromprofits, Sayare told Dodd, biotechnology companies depend forfunding almost exclusively on investors.
Earlier in the hearing, Sayare had made the point that he waspresent at the hearing in place of Lisa Conte, CEO of ShamanPharmaceuticals Inc., who was in Japan to search for newfunding.
Threatened funding, of course, is the biggest reason thatbiotechnology companies seek freedom from interference froma breakthrough drug committee. But the pharmaceuticalcompanies also want freedom from bureaucratic control,however indirect.
And so Lodewijk J.R. de Vink, president and Chief OperatingOfficer of Warner Lambert interrupted Sayare, saying, "Ihardly think you can continue to run on investments that willnever reap returns."
-- David C. Holzman Washington Editor
(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.