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May 8, 2021, 10:43 a.m. EDT

Biden’s move on vaccine patents represents blow for the second-biggest spender on Washington lobbying

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By Victor Reklaitis

The Biden administration’s Wednesday decision to support waiving intellectual-property protections for COVID-19 vaccines counts as a significant disappointment for drugmakers, who rank among the biggest spenders on Washington lobbying.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, the companies’ main trade association, disclosed $8.54 million in outlays on lobbying during this year’s first quarter in an April 20 filing. Only one other organization reported spending more in the first quarter — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which shelled out more than $17 million. That’s according to an OpenSecrets.org analysis of filings .

PhRMA’s first-quarter disclosure shows it lobbied on many topics, including intellectual property, drug prices, the manufacturing of COVID vaccines and treatments, “Medicare for All” proposals, possible changes to Obamacare, supply-chain resiliency and trade agreements.

In 2020, PhRMA reported spending about $26 million on its efforts to influence U.S lawmakers and regulators, ranking third in outlays behind the National Association of Realtors with its $84 million in spending and the U.S. Chamber with its $82 million, according to OpenSecrets.org , which is run by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. PhRMA ranked fourth in outlays in 2019, 2018 and 2017.

From the archives (May 2019): Drugmakers’ lobbying spending at 10-year high as Washington targets soaring prices

PhRMA’s president and CEO, Stephen J. Ubi, was quick to criticize the Biden administration’s move via a statement issued Wednesday .

“This decision will sow confusion between public and private partners, further weaken already strained supply chains and foster the proliferation of counterfeit vaccines,” Ubi said.

“It also flies in the face of President Biden’s stated policy of building up American infrastructure and creating jobs by handing over American innovations to countries looking to undermine our leadership in biomedical discovery. This decision does nothing to address the real challenges to getting more shots in arms, including last-mile distribution and limited availability of raw materials.”

The PhRMA chief said drugmakers are “fully committed” to providing global access to COVID vaccines and “collaborating at a scale that was previously unimaginable, including more than 200 manufacturing and other partnerships to date.” His industry “shares the goal to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible, and we hope we can all refocus on that shared objective,” he said.

Vaccine makers’ stocks fell Thursday as the broader S&P 500 index /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +0.19% gained 0.3%. Pfizer shares /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE -1.30% dropped 1.9%, BioNTech /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX -0.53% was off 2.4% and Moderna /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA +0.85% lost 2.7%, while Johnson & Johnson /zigman2/quotes/201724570/composite JNJ -1.27% slipped by 0.2% and AstraZeneca /zigman2/quotes/200304487/composite AZN -0.12% shed 1%.

See: Vaccine makers lower after U.S. says it supports IP waivers

Also read: Global tally of COVID-19 cases tops 155 million as Biden supports waivers for vaccine patents

Opinion: For just $25 billion, the U.S. could jump-start a project to quickly vaccinate the entire world against COVID

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