Monday, November 24, 2014

Gilead Spent How Much on DC Lobbyists for Hep C Drug?

(Use of this AIDS Healthcare Foundation ad is not an endorsement of their abysmal transparency policies and opposition to use of Truvada to prevent HIV transmission.)

Reporter Paul Demko knows his way around both nonprofits and the healthcare industry, and before he began writing for Modern Healthcare he plied his trade at the Chronicle of Philanthropy. We became acquainted with each other during that stint.

In early October, Demko penned an extensive look at overall healthcare lobbying in Washington with a particular focus on Gilead Sciences. One thing I learned was that a former HIV adviser to Dubya has become a lobbyist who was hired by Gilead.

Another thing was how Gilead did the soft sell in Washington about Sovaldi via a forum for Congressional staffers, showing me that such forums about Gilead's products aren't limited solely to HIV organizations.

I salute Demko and Modern Healthcare for an excellent job of following the money: 

About the same time Gilead acquired Pharmasset (manufacturer of the hepatitis C drug Sovaldi), it hired Joseph Grogan to lead its lobbying. That was the first sign that the company planned to pump up its lobbying in Washington. Grogan had held a similar post with biotechnology giant Amgen, which had a track record of influencing government policy.

Grogan joined Amgen after serving as a senior policy adviser to Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, who was FDA commissioner during the George W. Bush administration. He also had served as executive director of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS, whose advisory council members included Gilead CEO John Martin.

Grogan's initial task was to ensure the experimental drug [Sovaldi] passed all its regulatory hurdles. [...] Gilead also hired some of the most influential lobbying firms in Washington.

In 2011 and 2012, the company spent just under $3 million on lobbying, according to reports. Last year, that figure increased to just over $4 million, a jump of more than 40%. And through the first two quarters of 2014, the company spent $2.6 million on lobbying, putting it on track to top $5 million for the year. [...]

But the job was far from over [after Sovaldi received FDA approval]. The $1,000-per-pill price tag on Sovaldi stirred a backlash on Capitol Hill. The company's newly acquired lobbying army swung into action. [...]

“Although Sovaldi has the potential to help people with HCV, at $1,000 per pill, its pricing has raised serious questions about the extent to which the market for this drug is operating efficiently and rationally,” the letter from [U.S. Senators] Wyden and Grassley read. [...]

[In September], Gilead hosted a forum, “Curing hepatitis C—the patient's perspective,” for legislative staffers at the Rayburn House Office Building. The event featured a hepatitis C patient; Dr. Natarajan Ravendhran, a liver disease specialist and chief of gastroenterology at St. Agnes Hospital, Baltimore; and a Gilead vice president. Ravendhran earned over $20,000 in 2013 in fees and other benefits from Gilead, according to the CMS Open Payments database.

The word went out across Capitol Hill. Roughly two-dozen individuals attended the event. “It was a relatively soft sell,” said one attendee. There was no discussion of congressional inquiries into the cost of Sovaldi or acknowledgement that there was anything controversial about the drug.

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