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Pharma opposes bill to limit perks for doctors

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Connecticut biotech employees, including about 75 representatives from Pfizer Inc., showed up in force Wednesday at the State Capitol in Hartford to argue against a new bill they say would hamper medical research and send pharmaceutical companies out of state.

Organizers said a total of about 150 people in the biotech industry showed up to talk to legislators about the bill, which was approved last month in a 17-14 vote by the General Assembly's Public Health Committee. The bill, which was referred to the Office of Legislative Research and the Office of Fiscal Analysis, still must be approved by the full General Assembly to become law.

The bill, SB-270, requires drug and medical device companies to adopt a marketing code of compliance that, among other things, would limit gifts, meals and continuing-education benefits to physicians as well as force companies to publicize interactions with health care providers.

"This bill can really hinder or change the relationship between doctors and our field representatives," said Pfizer spokeswoman Liz Power in a phone interview. These salespeople provide "critical information about prescription medicines" to busy doctors, she added.

Power said many of the proposed regulations overlap with new federal requirements, and are therefore unnecessary. In addition, she said, the bill would prove expensive to implement.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which sponsored the trip to Hartford, said in testimony that the bill threatened up to 53,000 jobs in Connecticut. These jobs include about 5,000 at Pfizer.

Paul Bowles, a scientist for the past 25 years at Pfizer's laboratories in Groton, said in a phone interview that about 15 to 20 employees at the company's research-and-development campuses in Groton and New London attended the session with legislators, where they had just a few seconds to make their points during a very hectic time for the cash-strapped General Assembly. Pfizer workers also gathered together on the floor of the state Senate, he said, where they received a standing ovation from legislators.

Bowles said he tried to stress to legislators - including state Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford, and state Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington - that they should make a decision on the bill that would be in the best interest of the state.

"A bill like this only increases the likelihood Pfizer has to make difficult decisions about reducing programs, shedding jobs, and that is not what our mission is about," Bowles said. "I know the programs we have going will greatly improve the quality of life of people who take our medicines."

Locally, most legislators on the Public Health Committee voted for the bill, including Chairwoman Ritter; state Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia; Rep. Kevin Ryan, D-Montville, and Rep. Melissa Olson, D-Norwich. State Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, and Rep. Marilyn Giuliano, R-Old Saybrook, voted against it.

Companies who run afoul of the new law would face fines of up to $100,000. Individuals could be fined up to $5,000.

Paul Pescatello, president and chief executive of the pro-pharmaceutical group Connecticut United for Research Excellence, said a similar bill approved two years ago in Massachusetts already has led to a financial hit for the Bay State. Soon after the Massachusetts bill passed, he said, both the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immonulogy and the American Society of Gene Therapy canceled plans to hold conferences in Boston, citing the new law.

"The drug industry will think twice about doing business in the state should such a law pass," he said in an e-mail. "According to figures cited in a report prepared by Connecticut's Office of Legislative Research, the canceled conferences represent a loss of more than 15,000 hotel room bookings and about $464,000 in local tax benefits."

The bill also requires drug companies to comply with requests from health care providers who ask that data not be made available to sales representatives. Pharmaceutical companies see this requirement as interfering with their ability to inform doctors about new information concerning their medicines, while advocates such as Charles Bell, programs director of the Consumers Union, are hoping to "address rapidly escalating commercial pressure on health care providers in Connecticut."


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