Shakedown? Epilepsy Drug Lobby Gave Lawmakers Fits
• Industry- Funded Non-Profit Pushed To Limit Generic Substitutes.
acing huge revenue losses as a result of expiring
The Journal reported that when the foundation’s San
patents for anti-seizure pills, drug makers teamed
Antonio and Houston chapters decided to make such a
F up with the industry-funded Epilepsy Foundation lobby push in Austin, Abbott Laboratories agreed to
to press states to suppress generic-drug competition, the
fund their efforts. Abbott faces a patent expiration next
pre-Murdoch Wall Street Journal recently reported.
year on its $770-million-a-year seizure drug Depakote.
The Maryland-based Epilepsy Foundation argues that
Last year five Texas lobbyists reported that the two
some patients have suffered relapse seizures after Epilepsy Foundation chapters—which had not reported switching to generic versions of name-brand drugs. The
a single lobby contract over the preceding decade—
FDA says there is no meaningful difference between
paid them up to $410,000. By the close of this year’s
the branded and copycat drugs. Stymied at the federal
legislative session, seven lobbyists reported Epilepsy
level, the foundation and the drug industry have lobbied
Foundation contracts worth up to $430,000. These
many states for measures that would curtail generic
lobbyists included ex-lawmaker Jaime Capelo and
Epilepsy Patent Time Bombs Ticking Away in the Lobby Max. Value of No. of ‘07 Year(s) Patent U.S. Sales ’07 TX Lobby Expires For Seizures Vendor (in Millions) Contracts Contracts Some Uses $1,215,000 Source: Wall Street Journal, Texas Ethics Commission and FDA. Texas Epilepsy Foundation Lobby, June 2007 Eplilepsy Foundation Min. Value Max. Value Lobbyist of Contract of Contract
Central & South Texas *Luis E. Gonzalez
Central & South Texas *Laura McPartland Matz
Central & South Texas *Frank R. Santos
Central & South Texas *Marsha Catron
Central & South Texas *Nelda J. Cruz
$200,000 $430,000 Sindi Roasales, who heads the San Antonio-based Hartmann, a lobbyist for the generic drug maker Epilepsy Foundation of Central & South Texas Sandoz, Inc., testified that the bill would better protect confirmed that Abbott was one source of her group’s
“the market share of a few brand-name drugs” than
funding. “We don’t focus on the fact that some money
epilepsy patients. The bill’s sponsor shot back that if
came from Abbott,” she said. “If you look at the Hartmann stopped impugning his motivations, then numbers of people involved, it’s not like Abbott was
Senator Janek would not call Hartmann a “high-priced
leading this. The Epilepsy Foundation was leading it.”
shill.” The resulting apology and truce left competing
Rosales said that her group’s 2007 lobby contract with
“shill” accusations hanging in the air.
the Santos Alliances firm was worth between $50,000
to $100,000. This suggests that the firm’s lobbyists
A complication for Senator Janek is that he introduced
made duplicate disclosures of the same lobby income.
this bill on behalf of the Epilepsy Foundation’s
Houston chapter, which failed to mention its corporate
Senator Kyle Janek, a Houston anesthesiologist, agreed
sponsorship. Senator Janek told Lobby Watch that he
to introduce the Epilepsy Foundation’s agenda. Janek’s
was unaware of the foundation’s industry funding.
SB 409 would prohibit pharmacists from substituting
Asked if she would handle disclosure differently next
generic for brand-name seizure drugs without time, Rosales said, “I would not have done anything documenting the prescribing doctor’s written consent.
different” except perhaps “starting earlier.”
This bill and an identical one by Rep. Dan Gattis of
Georgetown (HB1806) also would restrict less-
Senator Janek said he was aware that his campaign
common switches from generic to brand drugs.
received industry support. But he cited other
motivations for carrying the bill that triggered an
The fact that Texas doctors already can block industry catfight. “I default to doctors and patients on pharmacies from dispensing generic substitutes simply
this issue,” he said. Senator Janek received $10,500 in
by writing “brand medically necessary” on the 2006 election cycle from PACs of four major prescriptions presented a major hurdle to the bill. SB
epilepsy drug makers. This support was up 40 percent
409 reverses this system, requiring pharmacies to from what these PACs gave him in 2004. These same document a doctor’s approval of any epilepsy-drug PACs contributed $6,500 to House sponsor Dan Gattis substitutions. Such a burden would discourage in 2006—quadrupling what they gave him in 2004. pharmacies from using cheaper, generic drugs resulting
in a major windfall for brand-name drug companies.
Who Sponsored the Sponsors? Epilepsy Drug ‘06 Donations ‘06 Donations
But name-brand drug makers did not testify. Instead
Company PAC To Sen. Janek To Rep. Gattis
doctors, patients and other Epilepsy Foundation representatives put a more-sympathetic face on the Pfizer
issue at a March 2007 hearing of the Senate Health and
Generic drug makers, pharmacies and HMOs opposed
the bill at the hearing. Sparks flew when Ron
On the other side, it is unclear just how high a priced
based Novartis, reported $1.7 billion in sales in the
“shill” Sandoz lobbyist Ron Hartmann might be. second quarter of 2007. Novartis paid three registered Hartmann did not register as a Texas lobbyist. His Texas lobbyists a total of up to $135,000 this session. filing in his home state of Colorado oddly reports that
he received $85 in lobby income in the first half of
Novartis’ Texas Lobby, June 2007
2007 and no lobby income in 2006. Yet he somehow
Min. Value Max. Value
managed to contribute $545 to Democratic candidates
Lobbyist of Contract of Contract
and committees in Colorado and Washington that year.
Such a lobby income would be remarkable for the
government affairs director of one of the largest generic
drug producers in the nation. Sandoz, a unit of Swiss-
$60,000 $135,000 Name-Brand Epilepsy Drug Makers In Texas’ Lobby, June 2007 Abbott Laboratories GlaxoSmithKline Min. Value Max. Value Min. Value Max. Value Lobbyist of Contract of Contract Lobbyist of Contract of Contract TOTALS: $50,000 $150,000 TOTALS: $275,000 $490,000 Min. Value Max. Value Johnson & Johnson Lobbyist of Contract of Contract Min. Value Max. Value Lobbyist of Contract of Contract $185,000 $275,000 $200,000 $300,000 The Epilepsy Drug Lobby Spent $5,000 Feeding the Legislature Amount Spent Feeding Company Obesity Drug State Officials & Staff Reported That Could Help Those Lobbyist Employer During 2007 Session Beneficiaries Who Overindulged TOTAL: $5,000
*Warning: FDA-approved for dogs only.
Name-brand epilepsy drug companies did not testify on
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee
SB 490. Nonetheless top staff lobbyists for three of the
unanimously approved Janek’s bill, which passed the
companies reported that they spent a total of $5,000
full Senate in April. In the House, the Public Health
wining and dining Texas officials and their staff Committee never put the bill to a vote. Some members during the 2007 legislative session.
committee members privately expressed concerns that
the bill was a handout to name-brand drug makers. ◘
The Drug Industry in Texas’ Lobby, June 2007 Min. Value Max. Value No. of Lobby Interest of Contract of Contract Contracts TOTALS: $3,015,000 $6,365,000
1 “Industry fights switch to generics for epilepsy,” Wall Street Journal, July 13, 2007.
2 The State of Texas awarded the same two Epilepsy Foundation chapters a total of $466,104 to provide epilepsy services in fiscal 2008.
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