Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The BIO Perspective: It Out-PhRMA's PhRMA

I emailed Blog-colleague Ramsey Baghdadi last week to agree completely with his May 11 post about the security around this year's BIO event. (Even those of us who preregistered were similarly routed 3/4 around the center, by the way...) And I agree with him that some of the sessions were surprisingly more content driven than in the past: for this meeting I always wonder whether it's more presumptuous to expect to hear nothing new at the show, or to expect to hear something of merit. The 2007 edition appeared to be fine fodder for the freelance trade press, certainly, judging from the number of surprisingly pithy story pitches in my email afterward.

But BIO has in many ways ceded its claim to be hoisting the banner of innovation, and that's unfortunate. I heard second hand that one biotech industry rep -- a former PhRMA intimate -- had commented at the meeting that "BIO is more PhRMA that PhRMA ever was." With respect to follow-on biologics, for example, its initial stance has been to stall, saying Congress shouldn't link it to PDUFA reauthorization because it was too scientifically complex to resolve in that timeframe, and besides, that the health care system should not expect to see signficant cost savings from FOBs.
Or as one ex-BIO staffer said to me, "Blocking innovation is what PhRMA does, like when it tried to stop Hatch-Waxman." Where previous BIO leadership would take the heat from big companies (in part to be seen as an alternative voice to PhRMA), advocacy on FDA policies is now set by the larger companies' Washington offices. Carl Feldbaum preached the importance of political neutrality, but the partisan, hooked-into-the-White-House Greenwood team hadn't planned for a Democratic win in '06, and has to build those bridges.

That said, there's no doubt that the spirit of innovation lives on in the hearts and minds of companies, investors, and other biotech stakeholders. And it's not even that BIO's voice is the wrong voice. It's just not -- no longer -- a voice of innovation. The Emerging Companies Section -- a notion integral to the merger between IBA and the smaller ABC that created BIO way back in 1993 -- appears to be fading away. In light of its policy positions, when the organization in its role of external advocate speaks of risk-taking, it rings hollow.

No comments: