BIO chief maps salvage plan for the 12-year umbrella

Just a few weeks ago, 2010 was shaping up as the year that the biotech industry would be handed one of the biggest legislative trophies buried inside the healthcare reform bill. Even with a key House leader--Henry Waxman--and President Obama voicing objections at the end of the long wrangle, the votes in the House and Senate were solidly in support.

But that was before the Scott Brown election in Massachusetts turned the heat up in Washington and healthcare reform became a political hot potato.

The optimist in Jim Greenwood, the president and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, still sees a path to approval, but it gets narrower with every passing day. It is, he tells me at the BIO CEO & Investor conference in New York, "increasingly difficult politically to get it done." But that doesn't mean that Greenwood, a former Congressman with considerable legislative skills and certainly the industry's leading lobbyist, is going to stand aside as the prize slips away from his grasp at the 11th hour. So he sat down on the first day of the conference and offered FierceBiotech readers some ideas on the way forward.

The healthcare reform bill isn't going to get through the Senate unless it goes through the reconciliation process, he says. And the House would have to craft a new bill that 'fixes' some of the problems that can't pass the public smell test: The Nebraska Medicaid payoff and Cadillac health plan tax being the two most prominent examples. But that path gets narrower with every passing day, and there's a good chance that supporters won't be able to thread the needle.

A separate, stand-alone bill that carves out the data exclusivity issue from healthcare reform would likely get stymied by key committee leaders in the House and Senate who opposed the 12-year umbrella plan. "I think we have the political support we need in the House and Senate," says Greenwood. And attaching the initiative to a bill that has broader support could well prove to be the industry's best hope for getting what most developers want and most lawmakers are willing to back. 

That's the same path that could be used to gain approval for another big prize: A tax credit allowing developers to deduct half the cost of discovery, with the refunds converted into a grant if the biotech company don't have any taxes to refund. Any bill that offers that kind of financial support would likely be greeted with big smiles by most developers.

BIO's legislative champions, like California Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, who was the chief protagonist in favor of 12 years of data exclusivity, still have a chance to prevail with members of the Obama administration, who may no longer have a big appetite for squabbling over this particular issue. - John (twitter | email)