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CONGRESSIONAL BIOTECH CAUCUS WILL LOOK AT PATENT LAW

Executive Summary

CONGRESSIONAL BIOTECH CAUCUS WILL LOOK AT PATENT LAW: the formation of the Congressional Biotechnology Caucus, headed by Sens. Brown (R-Colo.) and Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Reps. Bliley (R- Va.) and McMillen (D-Md.), was announced by the four legislators on July 16. They will co-chair the group and are recruiting members. At a press conference to showcase the caucus, the four said they have not yet identified any particular legislative priorities or positions related to biotechnology, but instead indicated their goal of having the caucus serve as an information clearinghouse and promoter of biotech in general. Brown, a Judiciary Committee member, did specifically note an interest in reviewing patent laws to reflect the "unique" features of the biotechnology industry. A statement of the caucus' "purpose" outlines several objectives including: "broadening support and knowledge of the scientific advances and benefits of biotechnology," including vaccines and treatments of hereditary disorders; increasing "awareness of the economic benefits" of biotechnology; monitoring Administration policies, including those of FDA and the Patent & Trademark Office; and supporting congressional committee work related to biotechnology. These are in line with the objectives of most congressional caucuses, which provide background information and advance the causes of interest to legislators or their homestate industries. While the four biotech caucus chairmen are not among the most active health/biotech legislators, Lautenberg, Brown and Bliley are cosponsors of the biotechnology process patent legislation (S 654/HR 1417) pending in Congress. Lautenberg, Bliley and McMillen represent areas with a relatively high concentration of biotech firms. According to a caucus fact sheet, 134 of the nation's 1,100 biotechnology companies are in the New York/New Jersey area. Another 107 are in Washington, D.C. and surrounding suburbs. Other areas with high concentrations of biotech firms are San Francisco (160), Boston (114), San Diego (90), Los Angeles (54) and Seattle (51). Bliley and McMillen also are both on the House Energy & Commerce Committee, with Bliley the ranking Republican on its Oversight Subcommittee and active on the generic debarment/FDA enforcement issue. Reflecting the start-up nature of most biotech firms, the caucus reported that 76% of firms have 50 or fewer employees while another 15% have 51-135 employees. Annual research and development spending averages $ 30,000 per employee in biotechnology companies in general, and $ 47,000 per employee in biopharmaceutical companies, the caucus said. "This compares with an average of $ 26,000 in the traditional pharmaceutical industry."

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