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Biologics Patent Protection:
Biotech Industry May Be Poised To Score Victory In House
  WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)--A day after a key victory in the Senate, the biotechnology industry may be poised to score again, this time in the House. A veteran California lawmaker with ties to the biotechnology industry said she thinks her proposal to protect brand-name biologic makers has enough support to carry in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Rep. Anna Eshoo, D.-Calif., wants pharmaceutical companies to have 12 years of protection to market brand-name biologics before facing competition from cheaper alternatives. A bill she introduced in March has 130 co-sponsors, and the support of the biotechnology industry. She thinks it has enough votes to pass. The debate over biologics, complex and expensive medicines derived from living cells, has raged in the last week and will likely only intensify as the House debates its next move.
The debate is pitting the industry, a Senate committee and Eshoo against formidable opponents like the White House, the Federal Trade Commission, consumer groups and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The latter group supports giving industry five to seven years of competition protection.
A lot is at stake. Any legislation will likely affect the bottom lines of biologic makers such as Amgen Inc. (AMGN), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and Genentech Inc., and the wallets of consumers.
The industry won a key victory Monday night when the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee passed a bill giving it 12 years of exclusivity. The industry appeared to win a second victory Tuesday when the House unveiled a proposal to reshape the health-care system that didn't include language on biologics. Waxman, chair of one of three committees overseeing health-care reform in the House, supports five years of exclusivity.
It's unclear why his thoughts weren't included in the proposal. "The most pragmatic reason is that he doesn't have the votes," Eshoo said after telling members of a House Judiciary subcommittee that 12 years of exclusivity is necessary for biologic makers to have the incentive to keep making the costly medicines. Eshoo is a member of the committee Waxman chairs.
A representative for Waxman wasn't immediately available to comment. Eshoo says she plans on introducing an amendment to the health-care bill as soon as mark-up begins, likely Thursday, to include 12 years of exclusivity.
The passage of the bill out of the Senate HELP committee puts more pressure on House members who want less than 12 years of exclusivity.
Industry analysts were quick to praise the Senate bill, saying it will likely "provide a modest boost" to some biologic company stocks.
AARP, the influential lobby for the elderly, said it was disappointed with the Senate committee's vote and "has great difficulty supporting legislation that would delay the availability of safe, affordable generic biologic drugs and impede consumer access to these life-saving drugs."
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