Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Medicines Co: No Non-Sinister Deed Goes Unpunished

The Medicines Company’s years-long effort to alter federal patent rules to allow certain filings to be approved even if they are late is neither an example of corporate altruism nor of corporate greed. More specifically, it’s a rather logical response to an unfortunate series of events that began in 2001 when TMC’s attorneys filed a patent extension for intravenous blood thinner drug Angiomax one day late, and the application was rejected by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. (See this March 2007 article from IN VIVO for a fuller understanding of the events then and since.)

Enter the national media and the omnipresent front-page stories about health care reform and town hall meetings being disrupted with angry rhetoric, sometimes verging on violence.

Earlier this month, New York Times columnist Frank Rich and MSNBC talk host Rachel Maddow reached the same conclusion when connecting three undeniable facts. 1) Former House Majority Leader Richard Armey (R-TX) up until very recently worked for DC law firm DLA Piper. 2) Armey’s lobbying group Freedom Works has played a role in fomenting the angry dissent occurring at various members of Congress’ town hall meetings. 3) The Medicines Company has employed DLA Piper in the past to lobby for patent law changes that would enable Angiomax to receive an additional four and a half years of patent protection, and Armey at times played a role in those efforts.

Those facts led to the following tautology on the part of both Rich and Maddow: The Medicines Company is helping to finance opposition to federal health care reform. TMC even had the pleasure of seeing its corporate logo displayed on Maddow’s MSNBC program Aug. 6 as she described how these events might connect.

There’s just one problem. TMC, in fact, favors health care reform, at least partially because adding more people to the health insurance rolls would be good for its business. The connections Maddow and Rich alluded to may have seemed to make sense, but in the end, they didn’t add up.

Talking with IN VIVO Blog Aug. 19, TMC CEO Clive Meanwell noted that his company had never retained Armey’s services directly and never given a penny to Freedom Works. TMC continues to retain the services of DLA Piper, he added, which is a matter of public record. Armey recently left DLA Piper so that its work would not be confused with the efforts of Freedom Works.

“I wonder if the media have noticed that the Democrats are in control at the moment,” Meanwell asked, saying that Armey, once one of the two or three most powerful Republicans in the country, has played a de minimis role at most in recent efforts to win patent law changes. “We certainly intend to continue working with DLA Piper,” Meanwell added. TMC will continue to advocate “openly and enthusiastically” for patent law changes that would benefit Angiomax, he said.

Presumably, these efforts will not include dubious tactics such as shouting down Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) or hanging in effigy a cardboard cutout of Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-MD).

Our sister publication “The Pink Sheet” DAILY today begins a three-part interview with Meanwell that took place before the current controversy over health care reform erupted. It focuses on TMC’s efforts to protect Angiomax and to expand the drug’s label, as well as the specialty pharma’s other efforts to plan for a post-Angiomax future.

In talking with IVB, Meanwell noted that TMC really would prefer not to be part of the health care reform news cycle – to the extent that this post extends the life of this story, we offer it only in the hope of clarifying the company’s non-role in the heated rhetoric surrounding the health care reform debate.—Joseph Haas

image from flickr user katkreig used under a creative commons license.

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