Howard Dean: “I’m actually not a shill for the bio industry”
The Center for American Progress hosted a video conference of Dr. Howard Dean talking about Health Care reform on Tueday. The video is on the web here. On this one hour program, Howard Dean spends a little over 3 minutes responding to allegations that he is a “shill” for BIO, on the issue of biosimilars.
For background see the following links:
Meredith Filak has prepared this transcript of Dr. Howard Dean’s comments at the CAP event, which run from 25.10 to 28:25. Doctor Dean clearly knowss the BIO/PhRMA talking points down pat, but he seems fairly uninformed about the bill itself, which is not about patent protection (Patents already provide exclusive rights for 20 years. Dean is arguing for a form of market exclusivity is broader than and independent of patent protection). My first impression is that Dean is saying, “trust me, I’m Howard Dean,” and then “Trust me, I’m a doctor.”
Host: Now we just have a few more minutes before I open up the questions to the audience, and I was just reading the other day an article in the Huffington Post. They, um, they call you a “shill for the biotech industry.” Any comments on that?
Dean: Yeah, absolutely. I’m definitely a shill for the biotech. [laughter] No, I, I just was part of an effort to make sure that the biotech industry got a patent life that was longer than what some of the people in Congress wanted to do. And I work for a law firm part-time that got paid, that got paid for that, so I was a shill for the bio industry. I’m actually not a shill for the bio industry. My long-term belief is that in order to have a healthy, innovative industry, pharmaceutical or biotech industry, you have to allow them to make some money.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making money. I just think that there’s wrong—there’s something wrong with making money at other people’s expenses. So, the argument that—this is a very complicated argument, and the article’s a very short article—their insinuation was that since I work for a law firm that represents a biotech group, that I had sold my soul.
My, actually, soul was with this issue in a long time. There has to be intellectual property protection. And if there isn’t, innovation stops. The reason that there’s not much innovation in Europe is because—well, because they can’t recoup their investment, not because of patent protection, but because of regulation on prices. And some reasonable pricing regulation, and some legislation to make sure generics can come in and cut the price at some point is a very good thing, because we want that, that lower price, and we want these drugs to be available at a cheap price. But there is an argument about where the break-even point is.
Biotech is the industry of the future, it pays three times as much in wages to people as the average industry does, and it’s our cutting-edge industry. If we lose that to other countries because we don’t have adequate patent protection, then we’ve lost a huge segment of the American economy and all the innovation. So my argument was—I took sides in the issue, and there were some lawmakers including—most of these companies, incidentally, are run by Democrats, ’cause they’re very smart people and they’re scientists, and you know, and the rest of it, I won’t finish the sentence. [laughter] So the argument was, “how long should their patents last?” And I thought they should last longer, in keeping with more with what the Bio industry thought, and other people thought they should last shorter. My argument is, there’s some number that’s the right number—I don’t know, I’ve argued for, actually I’d argued for 14 years, the industry said 12, and the folks in—one congresspeople said, some congresspeople said, zero. You–explain to me, why you wouldn’t—first of all, only one out of 5,000 drugs, compounds they invent, from—they don’t invent them, they take them from living things, proteins and soforth—only one out of 5,000 compounds gets to the market. So why would you put any money into something if you had no protection? Somebody could come in and copy your invention as soon as it was proved that it worked.
So, look, I think there’s a lot of legitimate debate about what the right number is, and I’m not sure that I have it, but I know a lot about this, and I’ve been doing this for twenty years, and as a physician I chose to side with the Bio industry. I don’t think that makes me a shill, but it does make me stand up for a position that’s not always popular with some other senators in the debate. And there’s room for debate on these things—probably more Republicans agree with me on this issue than Democrats. That’s gonna happen sometimes.