Price board's consumer agenda
Durbin says capital markets can't drive policy

WASHINGTON - Rep. Richard Durbin, author of a proposed law to create a drug price review board that could revoke the patents of "excessively" priced products, told BioCentury his bill offers no special consideration for the biotechnology industry, and offered no hope of an improvement in the political climate that has chilled the biotechnology capital markets.

In an interview, Durbin said he recognizes there is a significant difference in the financial status of biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, but his legislation does not explicitly recognize this difference. Instead, Durbin argues that members of his proposed price review board can be trusted to avoid price limits or patent revocations that unfairly penalize the biotechnology industry.

Responding to questions about the reluctance of investors to fund biotech during the policy uncertainty, the lawmaker said, "Let's be honest about this. This debate is going to go on for six months, 12 months or even more. That is, I'm afraid, part of this process. We cannot be driven in these public policy decisions by what's going to happen to the stock prices on Wall Street. We have to really try to come up with a policy which is good for this nation."

The Illinois Democrat, the At-Large Whip of the House, emphasized that his bill is written strictly "from a consumer's viewpoint," and will force companies to "absolutely defend" their drug pricing policies before the board and the "consumers of this country." Durbin predicted that the publicity generated by the board will prompt companies to comply with its pricing guidelines, thereby avoiding conflicts leading to patent revocations.

This has been the experience in Canada since a Patented Medicine Prices Review Board was established there in 1987 to regulate prices, backed by the power to revoke patent exclusivity. Since the board was established, the board only once has found it necessary to convene a hearing to determine whether a product price is excessive. The case involves Genentech Inc.'s Activase and is still underway.