The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) spent $3.61 million on political lobbying during the first quarter of 2008, the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) has reported.

This figure puts the industry group at 11th place in the table of biggest spenders for the year so far in terms of organisations. Top of the list is the US Chamber of Commerce, with spending of $14.5 million during the three months, followed by the seniors group AARP at $7.22 million. The American Medical Association (AMA) is fifth with spending of $4.7 million and sixth is the American Hospital Association (AHA) on $4.38 million.

However, pharmaceuticals and health care products spent more than any other industry on lobbying during the period, at $52.8 million. This is considerably ahead of insurance, the second biggest-spending sector, which spent $40.53 million.

The most recent disclosure forms filed with the US Senate Office of Public Records (SOPR) show that PhRMA’s lobbying activities were directed particularly against legislative proposals to: allow importing of prescription drugs from countries where these are cheaper than in the USA, such as Canada; give the federal government powers to negotiate prices with manufacturers for prescription drugs supplied to seniors under the Medicare programme; reform the US patent system; and create a regulatory pathway for the approval of generic versions for biotechnology products at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Meantime, other reports this month have pointed to the increase in pharmaceutical industry lobbying activities at state level, in support of legislative proposals which would take away the pharmacist’s right to replace certain brand-name drugs with generics when filling prescriptions, except in cases where the prescriber has stipulated that the branded product only must be supplied. Instead, most of the proposals would require the pharmacist to inform the prescriber, or obtain their permission, before making a substitution.

Currently, 27 US state legislatures are considering bills which would prohibit automatic generic substitution for certain classes of drugs, mostly anti-epilepsy treatments, and two – Tennessee and Utah – have already approved such bills.

Drugmakers warn that patients can be put at risk by even the slightest variation from the originator product’s manufacturing or formulation, but the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) disagrees. “Pharmacist substitution of brand-name drugs with FDA-approved, therapeutically-equivalent drugs saves money for patients, employers and insurance carriers. It is a legal and well-established practice throughout the country. Prescribers, when issuing prescriptions to patients, indicate whether a pharmacist may engage in generic substitution. Prescribers retain the ultimate authority in this matter,” it says.