Friday, May 11, 2007

Senators who weakened drug bill got millions from industry

By Ken Dilanian, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Senators who raised millions of dollars in campaign donations from pharmaceutical interests secured industry-friendly changes to a landmark drug-safety bill, according to public records and interviews.

The bill, which passed 93-1, grants the Food and Drug Administration broad new authority to monitor the safety of drugs after they are approved. It addressed some shortcomings that allowed the painkiller Vioxx to stay on the market for years after initial signs that it could cause heart attacks.

However, the powers granted to the FDA in the bill's original version were pared back during private meetings. And efforts to curb conflicts of interest among FDA advisers and allow consumers to buy cheaper drugs from other countries were defeated in close votes.

• A measure that blocked an effort to allow drug importation passed, 49-40. The 49 senators who voted against drug importation received about $5 million from industry executives and political action committees since 2001 — nearly three quarters of the industry donations to current members of the Senate, according to a USA TODAY analysis of data compiled by two non-partisan groups, Center for Responsive Politics and PoliticalMoneyLine.

• Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he demanded removal of language that would have allowed the FDA to ban advertising of high-risk drugs for two years because it would restrict free speech. Roberts has raised $18,000 from drug interests so far this year, records show, and $66,000 since 2001. His spokeswoman, Sarah Little, said he "takes great pains to keep fundraising and official actions separate."

(Continued here.)

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