An early task for the new US Congress when it convenes in January may well be to take a new look at legislation to ban direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising for medicines during their first few years on the market, if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers this to be necessary to protect the public health.

Representative Henry Waxman, who was recently elected as chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, has said that revisiting this initiative, which failed to pass through Congress last year, is on the list of ideas which he would want to tackle early in his leadership. The House panel is regarded as the most influential in Congress and has particular jurisdiction over health care.

It is in the first few years of a new drug’s life that manufacturers “often aggressively market their products and engage in direct-to-consumer advertising. This increases the number of consumers exposed to safety risks of new products long before those risks are truly understood,” said Rep Waxman.

Giving the agency powers to ban television advertising for up to three years where problems are suspected with a new product "makes a great deal of sense and can provide FDA an important tool to protect the public health," he added, speaking this week at a meeting organized by The Prescription Project, a group which “seeks to eliminate conflicts of interest created by industry marketing.”

Another priority for Rep Waxman’s committee in the 11th Congress will be the creation of a regulatory pathway at the FDA for biogenerics, he said.

Kennedy to focus on health care
Meantime, another long-time industry critic in the Congress, Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy, says he is giving up his seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee in order to be able to focus full-time on health care reform. As chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Sen Kennedy said that he expects “to lead a very full agenda in the next Congress,” including working with President-elect Barack Obama “to guarantee affordable health care, at long, last, for every American.”

CQ HealthBeat reports a senior aide to the 76-year-old Senator as saying that health care reform will be “priority one, two and three” for him in the new Congress, to which he plans to return full-time in January despite still receiving treatment for the malignant glioma (brain tumour) with which he was diagnosed in May.