Pharma Firms Boost Lobbying in Race for Virus Treatment, Vaccine

Several drugmakers bolstered their federal lobbying in the second quarter of the year as the coronavirus pandemic created an urgent and potentially lucrative race for medicines, vaccine research and new tests.

Gilead Sciences Inc. reported $1.26 million in lobbying spending in the three months ending June 30, according to Monday disclosures with the U.S. Congress. That was up 17% from a year ago and came as U.S. officials in May issued an emergency use authorization for Gilead’s remdesivir as a treatment for Covid-19 after a trial found it sped recovery by about four days in hospitalized patients.

Gilead donated remdesivir to hospitals through June, but the company announced at the close of that month its plans to charge $390 a vial, or $2,340 for a five-day regimen, for direct government purchases by the U.S. or other developed countries.

London-based AstraZeneca Plc spent $780,000 as the company raced to develop a vaccine to protect against the coronavirus. That was down slightly from its outlays during the same period a year ago.

The U.S. government committed as much as $1.2 billion to Astra in May to help make the potential vaccine it’s developing with the University of Oxford. Under its agreement with Astra, the U.S., which is struggling to contain the deadly virus that is simultaneously infecting thousands of people every day and continuing to devastate the economy, could begin receiving supplies as early as October.

A human trial of the Astra-Oxford vaccine in more than 1,000 adults showed increased levels of two important kinds of immune cells, according to a publication Monday by the Lancet medical journal. The new results place the Oxford shot near the lead of about 160 coronavirus vaccines identified by the World Health Organization in various stages of development around the world.

The U.S government’s funding agreement for Astra-Oxford is part of its larger effort to secure coronavirus vaccines for the U.S., officially dubbed Operation Warp Speed. Other companies in the vaccine race have received financial backing from the program.

Moderna Inc. spent a company record $70,000 on lobbying in the second quarter, up from the $10,000 it spent in the same period a year ago.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech firm has also surged in trading this year and received backing from Operation Warp Speed.

Moderna last week disclosed early results for all people tested in an initial safety trial of its vaccine. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called the Moderna data “really quite promising” in an interview at the time, but other experts expressed caution over side effects that appeared in the results.

Novavax Inc., which specializes in producing novel vaccines for life-threatening infectious diseases, disclosed lobbying the White House and Vice President Mike Pence’s office through an outside lobbying consultant, Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. Among its lobbyists at the firm were former Republican Representative Luke Messer, who succeeded Pence in the House of Representatives when the latter became Indiana’s governor.

The company has no products on the market but announced on July 7 it would receive $1.6 billion from the U.S. for its vaccine development process, the largest amount yet from Operation Warp Speed. Those funds will allow Novavax to conduct advanced human studies and establish manufacturing to deliver 100 million doses as soon as late 2020, the company stated at the time.

Novavax’s shares have rallied so far in 2020, having increased more than 30-fold from where they traded at the year’s opening.

Abbott Laboratories, which has received emergency use authorization from the U.S. for both virus tests and antibody tests, spent $930,000, up 16% from the previous year. The company has been selling tests at a clip, although it has tried to counter concern about the false negative rate on one of its offerings.

E-Cigarette Lobbying

Lobbying spending by the main trade group for drugmakers declined more than 14% from the same period a year ago. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America trade group’s spent $5.41 million during the period and disclosed lobbying on the virus, drug pricing and access issues.

E-cigarette maker Juul Labs Inc. also spent $1.15 million on lobbying during the three months, up nearly 14% from the same period in 2019, as the company’s value declined with the regulatory and legal onslaught against vaping. The company is also preparing to submit an application to the Food and Drug Administration later this year seeking permission to remain on the market.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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