Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Corr Returns to HHS: Another Piece in FOBs Puzzle

Bill Corr will be Health & Human Services Secretary-designate Tom Daschle’s deputy secretary.

The position requires Senate confirmation. Corr has been an advocate of tougher government controls on tobacco, which often draws the ire of some Republicans in the Senate. As a long-time aide to key Democratic health figures on Capitol Hill (including Daschle), however, Corr’s confirmation is a formality.

In addition to working as chief counsel and policy director for Daschle for two years, Corr has valuable experience within the HHS bureaucracy, acting as an advisor and chief of staff to Clinton Administration HHS Secretary Donna Shalala. He has also been a leader of the Obama HHS transition team, catching up on the broad array of current initiatives.

From biopharma’s perspective, the most important quality that Corr brings to the new position is a familiarity and commitment to an approval pathway for follow-on biologics. Corr was Congressman Henry Waxman’s (D-Calif.) primary staffer for the Waxman-Hatch generic drug law in 1984.

Corr was a forceful advocate for establishing a clear route for quick approval of generics at the end of patent terms as a way to cut drug prices and reduce drug marketing activities – in a period when drug marketing was a pale version of the current level of promotional support.
In fact, despite the rapid success of the Waxman/Hatch legislation in creating a generics drug business, Corr was not pleased by the ability of the program to bring down drug prices rapidly.

He held a hearing two years after the enactment of the law to show that drug companies were still charging high prices. That hearing also showed the unanticipated effect of driving companies to expand dramatically their research budgets (from 8% of sales to around 12-15% of sales) to try to find products to replace products facing generic competition.

Corr won’t be able to devote the same type of focused attention to the development of follow-on biologics legislation, but he will be able to press FDA for action and he won’t need a long-time to learn the ins-and-outs of the issues. There won’t be long delays trying to discuss the philosophy of follow-on biologics at the top level of HHS.

Corr’s appointment may affect the FDA selection process in a variety of ways.
From his Congressional background, Corr shares the most with Josh Sharfstein (head of the Baltimore Health Department). They both served Waxman, though in distinctly different generations: Corr in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and Sharfstein recently. That connection, however, could cut both ways. There may be subtle reaction against putting too many people recognized as disciples of Waxman in key positions throughout HHS. FDA watchers have already begun speculating that Sharfstein’s candidacy is losing momentum.

By temperament, Corr is closer to the Cleveland Clinic’s Steven Nissen.

Through his commitment to anti-tobacco campaigns, Corr shares a common theme with former FDA Commissioner David Kessler.

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