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Senators Promise Cheaper Drugs

May 1, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Drug companies are delaying generic versions of expensive medicines from reaching consumers, say senators who introduced a plan Tuesday to make it harder for drug makers to hold on to brand name patents.

``If brand name manufacturers want to block generic alternatives, their lawyers will have to make their case to a judge,″ said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

He’s teaming with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to remove the hurdles that generic drug makers face when they try to compete. The bill, which McCain plans to bring before his Senate Commerce Committee, is aimed at anticompetitive practices allegedly used by brand name makers to delay generic production of patented medicines.

Federal law allows firms to extend patents on drugs, particularly if they can prove they need the extra time for marketing research and other matters.

But the Federal Trade Commission, which the panel oversees, is already studying marketing agreements between brand name and generic drug makers. Consumer advocates charge that major drug companies cut exclusive deals with generic drug makers to delay or increase the cost of their versions. The bill forces generic makers into the market sooner.

``The manipulation of the market has to be stopped,″ said Frank Clemente of Public Citizen, Ralph Nader’s consumer group.

Lawmakers say the plan means the difference between patients paying an average $65.29 for a brand name medicine, compared with an average $19.33 for generic drugs. The plan comes at a time when Congress is bogged down in how it will fund prescription drugs for one of the largest groups of consumers, the aged and disabled Americans on Medicare.

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