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Senator’s Roles Prompt Hypocrisy Cry

September 21, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ As a senator from New Jersey, Democrat Robert Torricelli wrote a bill to help pharmaceutical giant Schering-Plough Corp. extend the patent on its lucrative allergy drug Claritin.

But as head of his party’s election effort in the Senate, he put money from the company into a campaign fund that is paying for ads attacking Republican John Ashcroft of Missouri for co-sponsoring the ``special legislation for Claritin’s New Jersey manufacturer to keep cheaper generic variations off the market.″

Torricelli’s dueling roles have prompted cries of hypocrisy. An Ashcroft spokesman called the ad fraudulent. The Missouri Republican Party responded with an ad accusing Ashcroft’s challenger, Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan, of ``assaulting the truth.″

Torricelli said Thursday that he disagrees with the theme of the anti-Ashcroft ad. But he defended his decision not to block the ad, which with sponsored by the Missouri Democratic Party with funds from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, of which he is chairman.

``The DSCC was not created exclusively to advance the interests of New Jersey or to represent my views,″ he said.

The ads says of the legislation that was written by Torricelli: ``Ashcroft’s bill means consumers pays more and the company makes billions.″

The ad also criticizes Ashcroft for accepting a $50,000 contribution from Schering-Plough to a campaign committee he controls. Schering-Plough gave the same amount to the DSCC on May 26, 1999, just one day before Torricelli introduced his bill to help the company pursue its patent extension. Torricelli says the timing was a coincidence.

Torricelli, who has won acclaim from his party for raising record amounts for the campaign effort, said the ad ``represents the position of the Democratic Party of Missouri.″

He acknowledged that being affiliated with a political ad that condemns his own legislative cause is ``an awkward position.″ He said he expects to find himself in the same position again soon, when the DSCC goes after Republican senators for supporting tax cuts. Torricelli has broken with Democrats to support some tax-cut proposals.

Torricelli’s Claritin bill would let Schering-Plough petition the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for three years of additional patent protection on grounds that the Food and Drug Administration took an excessively long time to approve the use of the drug.

Senators from both parties have blocked efforts to attach the Claritin language to must-pass spending bills.

William O’Donnell, a spokesman for Madison, N.J.-based Schering-Plough, responded to the ad flap by saying, ``We think it’s unfortunate that a measure which is designed to take issues of patent inequities out of politics should become the subject of political campaigning.″

Last month, the FDA approved a six-month extension for Schering-Plough’s exclusive marketing of Claritin. That means a less expensive version of the drug cannot be introduced before December 2002.

Analysts said the six-month extension could mean an extra $1 billion in sales before Claritin must compete with a cheaper generic pill. It may also help Schering-Plough launch a next-generation Claritin medicine before a generic can erode its market share.


On the Net:

Schering-Plough: http://www.schering-plough.com

DSSC: http://www.dscc.org

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