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Mr. Brown Goes to Washington

The election of Massachusetts’ new Senator, Scott Brown, has set off a media frenzy about the fate of health care reform legislation. However, the ramifications of his election reach far beyond health reform.

FDA turns out to be a good example. FDA Matters sees at least three consequences of his election that may affect the agency in 2010.

Congressional Focus. Health reform is still alive, but it will require considerable effort to re-start the process and advance new legislation. This could mean yet another year in which the nation’s dialogue on health issues will be largely limited to one topic, health reform.

If health reform is re-started, Congress may enact food safety reform and hold scattered hearings on medical devices, drug safety, and medical innovation. However, Congress will lack the time and focus to attend to other important FDA issues.

Regulatory Pathway for Follow-on Biologics. A regulatory pathway for approval of follow-on biologics (FOB) is a probable casualty of the Brown election and the demise of current health reform legislation. Chairman Waxman has never wanted FOB in health reform. In the days before Senator Brown’s election, he was reportedly working with the White House and the Democratic leadership to reduce the 12-year data exclusivity that had been in both the House and Senate-passed legislation.

If FOB is to be adopted in 2010, it will probably have to be as stand-alone legislation. This is a mixed blessing for the biopharmaceutical industry. While it gives Chairman Waxman a new opportunity to shape the House version, the strength of the industry has been in the ranks, rather than with leadership. The key to the industry’s earlier victory in the House was that the legislation sponsored by Representative Anna Eshoo had 140 bi-partisan co-sponsors from every part of the country.

The time for legislation may also have passed. I believe more companies are going to file full Biological License Applications (BLA), rather than waiting for a generic-oriented pathway. BLA’s are more expensive, but there are offsetting proprietary advantages. Some companies may also be able to build their US BLA on clinical data that had been compiled to support abbreviated applications in Europe.

Deficit Reduction. Senator Brown’s election may also be a harbinger of another trend that could impact FDA. President Obama had already announced that the Administration’s appropriations requests for 2011 (considered in 2010) would focus on deficit reduction.

Congressional enthusiasm for deficit reduction is always strong on rhetoric, but weak on follow-through. Many members of Congress see the Massachusetts special election as reflecting a growing and ugly mood in America about the economy and jobs. Because the federal deficit is an important contributor to this mood, Members of Congress may take deficit reduction more seriously this year.

If the deficit reduction fervor increases further, FDA is at-risk of receiving a very small increase at a time when the agency’s needs are growing and it still working to overcome a decade of budgetary neglect.

It is rare for a Congressional special election to affect DC. This one is different and we are likely to see considerable change as Mr. Brown comes to Washington. FDA Matters will continue to watch closely how the election may impact: Congressional attention to FDA, the follow-on-biologics debate and the fate of FDA’s appropriation.


For more background on the battle over FOB’s in the House last year:

The Best Little Chess Game in Town

August 3rd, 2009

One of the reigning champions of political chess, Representative Henry Waxman, has found himself in an endgame on follow-on biologics (FOB). His three decades of success have been built on extraordinary mastery of Congressional procedure, artful compromise and strategic alliances. His defeat seems unavoidable, but no one should assume that he can’t yet win or draw this game. Read the rest of this entry »


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