Monday, November 03, 2008

The Change Election For Pharma

John McCain has pulled out of Michigan, but the state remains a battleground for the drug companies. They aren’t advocating for any particular candidate, however, but rather their way of life.

Big pharma’s trade group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, is touting the research efforts underway in the state as part of a report on biotech medicines in development. The public/private development partnerships in the state “are a great example of how to do it right,” PhRMA Senior VP Ken Johnson explains.

The fact that some of Capitol Hill’s fiercest critics of industry, Reps. John Dingell and Bart Stupak, are from Michigan doesn’t hurt either. PhRMA has also rolled out the report in the swing states of North Carolina and Pennsylvania. “It’s never a bad idea to let the voters know about the good things you are doing as an industry,” Johnson explained.

The tailored releases – akin to personalized medicine – have received significant local coverage, PhRMA reports.

Another PhRMA initiative this campaign season seems to have fared less well. The PhRMA-backed Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease campaigned to get language supporting treatment of chronic disease in both party platforms, and the effort produced mixed results.

In the Republican platform, “improved nutrition” gets equal billing with “breakthrough medicines” in a discussion of access to care. The Democratic platform states “chronic diseases account for 70 percent of nation’s overall healthcare spending.” It’s a strong statistic, but considering that the association maintains the figure is actually over 75 percent, it becomes clear that the group’s lobbying effort may not have gotten the message across clearly.

The political parties, like the marketplace, have apparently left the primary care blockbuster behind.

Even as industry rethinks its business model, PhRMA has supported some more direct political activity this season, including “thank you” advertisements for congressmen who supported an expansion of children’s health care insurance last year.

Much has also been made of how Obama is receiving more contributions from employees of pharmaceutical firms than McCain is. But the major political maneuvering for PhRMA will come next year, when it engages with what appears likely to be a Democratic president and a strongly Democratic Congress.

At the top, PhRMA has shown nimbleness before: A decade before being tapped to lead PhRMA, then-Congressman Billy Tauzin switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican.

So, and even though he was brought into the association to manage relations with a Republican administration and congress, it wouldn’t take breakthrough innovations for PhRMA to have some success on the Hill next session. What role Tauzin will play in those campaigns, however, appears unclear. The one-time cancer patient recently underwent a medical procedure and "expects to be back on the job in the very near future," the association said.

Still, the Michigan report is a reminder that, regardless of the shifts in reimbursement and safety standards that pharmaceutical companies might be facing from the next administration, industry’s success will depend on what it can discover in the lab – and how effectively it can keep the public focused on that part of its business.

M. Nielsen Hobbs

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