Pharmaceutical manufacturers and their trade associations spent a record $155 million on US federal lobbying during January 2005-June 2006, according to a study conducted by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI).

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America spent over $18 million on lobbying last year, which is more than any individual pharmaceutical manufacturer and the largest amount spent by the trade organisation in a single year since 1998, when the Center first conducted this type of analysis. In all, PhRMA has spent $104 million on political lobbying since 1998, according to the study, which is based on data obtained from the Senate Office of Public Records.

Pfizer was the pharmaceutical industry’s biggest spender on lobbying last year, at $12 million. Since 1998, the firm has spent $62 million on such activities, while for Merck & Co, the total over that period is about $48 million. For Eli Lilly, Bristol-Myers Squibb and GlaxoSmithKline, it is approximately $40 million each.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), 20 top drug companies (including their subsidiaries) and two industry trade groups spent $605 million in total on lobbying during January 2005-June 2006, with outlays of at least another $50 million during the second half of 2006. Pharmaceutical interests employed about 1,100 lobbyists in each of the past two years, and many of the bills which they have targeted reflect public concerns over drug prices and safety issues, says the CPI.

These include efforts by lawmakers to undo a provision of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 which prohibits the federal government, through the Secretary of Health and Human Services, from negotiating with manufacturers on the prices of drugs supplied through Medicare. Many other bulk purchasers, including private insurers and federal departments such as the Veterans Health Administration, are able to obtain discounts in this way.

On January 22, the House Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act (HR 4), which requires price negotiation, was approved, and the Senate is considering a companion bill. But the White House has stated that President Bush would veto any push to require drug price negotiations in the Medicare program, and nearly all major drug companies have lobbied heavily to influence how the Medicare prescription drug program would be set up and administered, says the CPI report.

Other lobbying issues have centred on:

– legislation to allow imports of prescription medicines from Canada and other countries where prices are significantly lower, and sold in the USA. At least half a dozen measures supporting such a move were introduced in the House and the Senate during the last Congress, but none have prevailed, the study says;

– reform of the Food and Drug Administration, in light of a number of drug safety concerns. Several bills that would strengthen the agency’s ability to monitor safety of marketed products were unveiled in the last Congress, but the pharmaceutical industry “opposes any legislation that would give the FDA more oversight;”

– trade and patents, with industry lobbyists urging the US government to press other countries to guarantee strong patent protection for drug companies through trade deals. The sector has also campaigned against “foreign price controls,” claiming that governments abroad sometimes keep their drug prices artificially low, says the CPI; and

– bioterrorism defence – in 2004, the Project Bioshield Act was passed almost unanimously by Congress and signed by President George W Bush on July 21 of that year. The legislation sought to invest $5.6 billion over the next 10 years in research and the purchase of vaccines and other medications against chemical, biological and radiological attacks. However, after the bill was passed, drug firms lobbied for what the Wall Street Journal called “more goodies,” including the chance to extend patent rights on medications “that have nothing to do with homeland security,” notes the report.

Commenting on the report, PhRMA senior vice president Ken Johnson was reported by the Los Angeles Times as saying that it “misses the mark when it comes to efforts by America's pharmaceutical research companies to educate policymakers.”

According to data released by the Federal Election Commission on February 19, pharmaceutical companies donated a total of $19.3 million to legislators during the 2006 election cycle, with $6.6 million being given by individuals and $12.7 million contributed by Political Action Committees. 67% of these contributions went to the Republican Party and 31% to the Democrats. Out of a total of more than 80 industries, the drug industry was the 14th biggest political contributor during the cycle, says the CRP. By Lynne Taylor