Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Notes From BIO: Treating the Government as a Partner

"You need to be thinking about a sustained relationship with the federal government in all of its arms." That was the advice of Amgen Executive Director-Global Public Affairs Andy Swire yesterday to biotech companies during a lively panel discussion on "The Reimbursement Policy Disaster" facing biotech.

Amgen has one of the largest (and, for our money, most capable) policy and advocacy staffs in Washington DC, and we thought a lot of what Swire had to say resonated at a time when all biopharma companies are preparing for an era of health care reform. So here is some of his advice for companies trying to survive and thrive in a challenging policy climate.

Swire began by contrasting a policy approach that stresses a "sustained relationship" with one that may be more "transactional." Since policy issues seldom disappear, he suggested, it is a mistake to approach them with the latter mindset.

Sponsors have to be trusted by those they interact with. "Its not that 'trust' means they have to like you," he said. It means "they have to trust that you are giving a comprehensive view" of the issue in question, even if it is one where there are deep disagreements.

In addition, "you need to be able to speak the language of the government." Focus on things like patient safety. Government officials are "not typically concerned about the profitability of an innovator company." Sponsors need to understant the intersection of their priorities with those of the agencies and officials they interact with.

Communication should be consistent. "Don't cherrypick only the good news," he said.

Last but not least: engage. "If you don't engage, they will be reading the press clippings and making conclusions based on that."

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