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Marcy Winograd Takes On Jane Harman Over Biologics

As Jane Hamsher noted today, Marcy Winograd, the progressive challenger to Jane Harman in CA-36, released a letter savaging Harman for her support of the Eshoo amendment on biologics in the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Though Congressman Waxman (D-Santa Monica/West LA) had introduced an amendment for a 5-year fast-track of generic biologics, Harman joined with Rep. Eshoo (D-San Mateo) in committee to kill the Waxman amendment and protect the profits of big pharmaceuticals by enacting a 12-year exclusivity on the use of Big Pharma’s clinical trial data. Under this amendment’s ambiguous “ever-greening” clause drug companies could continue their monopoly indefinitely by changing a dosage instruction — thus thwarting the sale and marketing of biosimilars or less expensive generics.

I denounce Harman’s committee vote to kill the Waxman amendment. There is no excuse for putting drug company profits before patient needs. Lowering regulatory obstacles to allow for more generics not only saves patients’ lives, but also billions of dollars in taxpayer money spent on prescription drug medicines. Why should Big Pharma have a monopoly on medical research often subsidized by the taxpayers? We need representatives who will represent the people, not the big corporations.

A May 15, 2009 financial disclosure statement Harman filed with the House of Representatives reveals Harman’s 2008 investment portfolio included stock in at least three biologic manufacturers: Pfizer, Abbot Labs, and Johnson & Johnson.

I just got off the phone with Winograd and asked her how she decided to use the biologics issue. “Well, I was perplexed why Big PhRMa was airing ads on the Thom Hartmann Show praising Harman, and asking people to call her office and thank her for supporting health care reform,” she said. “Then I read Jane Hamsher’s post and that Time Magazine story about the biologics issue, and I put two and two together.”

Winograd noted that Harman has been offering press release after press release about her support for health care reform, but nothing on this particular issue, where Harman sided with pharmaceutical interests and allowed them to perpetually hold their patents. The progressive candidate plans to release a position paper on how to fix this issue, and “when I am elected to Congress I will work to repeal this.” She cited favorably the FTC report that recommended no exclusivity period for biologic drugs.

Winograd noted that she called Anna Eshoo’s office recently to inquire about the issue, and the staffer both denied that there was an evergreening clause in Eshoo amendment and referred Winograd to Eshoo’s response in the Huffington Post making the same claim. “I went back to the bill, and I read that portion, and it sure sounds like evergreening to me. I’m not a pharmacist, but I can read, and it said that slight modifications would allow drugmakers to restart the clock.”

“As someone with a father who had Parkinson’s and a best friend with breast cancer, I would always support the ability for patients to get the life-saving care they need,” Winograd said. Asked about Harman’s stated support of the overall bill, including a public option, Winograd replied, “As progressives, we have to be cautious about who we support. If someone has played a key role in passing this sellout to Big PhRMa, then it behooves us not to support those politicians who are working for large corporations instead of their constituents.”

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David Dayen

David Dayen