When three of the state's politicians, led by Governor Deval Patrick, visit a major biotech conference in San Diego next month, they're likely to receive a cool reception. They hope to use a $1 billion initiative to lure biotechs to Massachusetts, but biotechs are upset over a provision in bill aimed at controlling health care costs that also would ban industry from giving docs any kind of gift, theAssociated Press writes.
"Strictly interpreted, the `anything-of-value' ban could bring clinical trials to a halt in Massachusetts, severely cut into necessary and mandated continuing educational studies undertaken by physicians and mean that fewer new medicines are readily available to patients in the state that is the global hub of medical innovation," the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council wrote in a May 1 letter to state legislators.
BIO, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, wrote House Speaker Sal DiMasi on April 30 that "the gift-ban provision threatens research and treatment for patients in the commonwealth." And Glaxo also wrote letters to Deval, DiMasi and Senate president Therese Murray accusing the Massachusetts political establishment of harboring "a strong anti-biopharmaceutical streak."
Murray, who proposed the ban, declined comment to the AP on the letters, but two lawmakers who helped push the bill through the Senate this month were happy to respond, with each saying that gifts are a form of bribery that drive up health care costs by overusing expensive meds.
Mark Montigny, a state senator who authored the gift-ban provision, told the AP the legislation wouldn't harm medical research, and the state's Life Sciences Initiative itself is proof Massachusetts isn't opposed to the biopharmaceutical industry. The bill also expressly allows for docs to continue receiving free drug samples from the manufacturers.
"They are very loose with the truth," Montigny, a Democrat, tells the AP. "They're smart enough to read the law but not smart enough to keep from misrepresenting it."
Richard Moore, a state senator and Democrat who chairs the Health Care Financing Committee, says the bill was aimed at preventing drugmakers from currying favor for their meds by providing free lunches for a doc and staff, flying them to resorts for work conferences or slapping their name on pro-drug medical journal articles they haven't even written.
"There are plenty of academic studies that have been written that have concluded that this does influence prescribing inappropriately," Moore tells the AP. "They're obviously trying to sell drugs, and to sell them at the highest cost."
Patrick is hoping to sign the bill - which would add $1 billion to R&D efforts over 10 years - into law by June 17, when all three politicianst travel to San Diego for the biotech conference hosted by BIO. The conference is expected to draw 20,000 people and 2,200 companies from 70 countries. Last year, the conference was held in Boston and Patrick used the occasion to announce his Life Sciences bill.
This year he hopes turning talk into action will help him lure companies "home." While his acdtions have triggered talk about naming Patrick "Governor of the Year" at this year's conference, that honor is now in doubt based on the gift ban, the AP writes. A Patrick spokesman tells the AP the governor hasn't taken a stand on banning gifts, despite his support for the overall bill.
BIO members are hoping he will end up opposing it. "For the Life Sciences Initiative to achieve its full promise, every link in the value chain must remain unencumbered, thereby allowing the flow of important medical information to doctors and patients," the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council told lawmakers.