June 26, 2000
Montana Sen. Conrad Burns Must Exercise Leadership to Block Money Grabs by Schering-Plough, Columbia Univ.
Public Interest Groups Call on Senator to Block Patent Extension Riders in Conference Committee
WASHINGTON, D.C. — With $7.3 billion in extra drug costs at stake, an array of public interest groups has sent a letter to Montana Sen. Conrad Burns, urging him to exercise leadership in blocking patent extension riders for pharmaceutical products in upcoming conference committee meetings.
Schering-Plough Corp. and Columbia University are reported to be attempting to secretly attach riders on the military construction supplemental appropriations bill. A patent extension for Claritin, already a hugely profitable drug for Schering-Plough, would cost consumers an additional $7.3 billion in continued monopoly drug prices. It would delay competition from generic drug makers and other manufacturers, who typically charge much lower prices. Extending the Columbia University cotransformation patent could give the university an extra $500 million in royalties for a product that was developed solely with taxpayer money.
As chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Burns leadership is key to killing these anti-consumer measures.
“These blatant money grabs couldn t survive in the full light of day,” said Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen s Congress Watch. “We urge Sen. Burns to make sure the special interests don t pick consumers pockets with shadowy maneuvers in the conference committee.”
Schering-Plough has dramatically increased its lobbying on this issue. The company spent $9.2 million lobbying Congress in 1999, more than any other pharmaceutical or biotechnology company, according to its lobby disclosure reports. That amount was up from $4.3 million in 1998.
“They are pulling out all the stops to get that extension,” Clemente said. “They couldn t do it with a stand-alone bill, so now they re trying the secretive approach, enlisting Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to insert the language. “This sneaky trick absolutely should not stand in a democracy.”
Schering-Plough made $2.1 billion in profits in 1999. Last year, the company enlisted its home-state senator, Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.), to sponsor the patent extension as S.1172. The bill has since been tied up in Hatch s Judiciary Committee because it lacked the votes for approval. Burns signed on as a co-sponsor in July 1999 but withdrew his support in September.
“You did the right thing once by withdrawing support for the Schering-Plough bill,” Clemente said. “In the interest of consumers, please do it again. We need leadership in the conference committee that you chair in order to protect the public interest.
“For the sake of the public, you must block the Claritin patent extension and strike language currently in the bill that would extend Columbia s patent. Senator, do not turn your back on the people who need these drugs at more affordable prices.”