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Columbia University Patent Extension Opposed by Major Consumer and Health Groups

July 19, 2000

Columbia University Patent Extension Opposed by Major Consumer and Health Groups

Groups Urge Senators to Oppose Rider on Agriculture Appropriations Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Granting Columbia University a patent extension for a drug-manufacturing process would lead to higher drug prices for consumers and open the floodgates for pharmaceutical companies to demand similar special deals, a coalition of 23 groups say.

In a letter sent to all U.S. senators today, Public Citizen and an array of groups ranging from Families USA and the United Auto Workers to the National Council of Senior Citizens and the National Organization for Rare Disorders urged the senators to eliminate the patent extension from the Agricultural Appropriations bill (S. 2536).

The provision was slipped into the bill by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H), a Columbia University alumnus, and has not been debated in any committee hearing. The bill could be considered by the Senate as early as today.

“The public has already paid enough for this process, as it completely underwrote its development but has received none of its profits,” said Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. “The government should grant no further unwarranted breaks to Columbia University.”

The provision would grant an extension on a patent for “cotransformation,” a process in which animal cells are used to manufacture proteins for drugs. The patent, which the university has held since 1983, has brought the school nearly $300 million. Taxpayers funded the research that led to the discovery of the process.

In the letter, the groups point out that granting the extension would:

* Constitute a major rewrite of the Hatch-Waxman Act, 1984 legislation that lays out guidelines for patent extensions for drugs — not manufacturing processes.

* Cost consumers. A five-year patent extension could give Columbia an additional $500 million in royalty payments. Not only would drugs currently manufactured with the process cost consumers more, but so would new drugs using the process. “Americans are clamoring for Congress to enact policies that would substantially reduce the cost of drugs — not maintain their high levels or increase them,” the letter says.

* Open the floodgates for drug companies whose patents are about to expire to ask Congress for special extensions. In the next few years, patents of 20 blockbuster drugs with sales of $20 billion a year are set to expire. “Now is not the time to give the manufacturers of those drugs any hope of favorable treatment,” the letter states.

The letter also notes that if Columbia has a legitimate argument, it should be made in committee hearings, so the provision can be debated publicly rather than being tacked quietly to the bill.