In the editorial "Patent for Profit" of Nov. 9, a foundation run by C. Everett Koop was mistakenly identified as the source of campaign contributions and favors in a patent matter involving the pharmaceutical firm Schering-Plough. (Published 11/11/1999)
THE STORY of pharmaceutical giant Schering-Plough's efforts to get a patent extension on its anti-allergy drug Claritin is a vivid illustration of the way big money has become a proxy in Congress for argument. As reported by Post writer Charles Babcock, the New Jersey-based company has been trying since 1996 to postpone the expiration of its rights to the highly popular and profitable medication. Failing, the company lobbied Congress to create a patent review board that could rule on its case.
As Mr. Babcock reported, Schering-Plough's campaign for the extension has included hiring a new and higher-priced team of lobbyists, donating $1 million to a foundation run by C. Everett Koop (who then lobbied as well). The foundation shifted its campaign contributions to embrace Democratic as well as Republican lawmakers, contributing $50,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to woo home-state senator and campaign committee chairman Robert Torricelli, and making the company jet available to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch. Coincidence, say those who got these favors and also helped move Schering-Plough's agenda along.
It's not that there's no meat to the company's claim. Its contention -- that early delays by the Food and Drug Administration in approving the drug cut into the time the patent should have run -- is a plausible one that also raises broader issues. Should companies be compensated for FDA delays, or is it more urgent to replace expensive prescription drugs such as Claritin with the lower-priced generic equivalents that become available once a patent expires? While Schering-Plough argues that it wants nothing but a fair hearing for Claritin, other players -- in particular, insurers -- fear that creating such a panel would invite a constant stream of such cases.
A spokesman says the company was all for exploring these issues -- what it pushed for was hearings, two of which it got, one in Mr. Hatch's committee. Mr. Hatch has also scheduled a markup. Fair enough. And why should it have taken a blizzard of favors to get this elementary attention? In the political money sink, things are no better for the lobbyist than for the lobbyee.