GOP wants FDA bill to boost drug industry's role

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"No longer can we afford to sideline experts simply because of their ties to the pharmaceutical industry," Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) said Thursday at an Energy and Commerce health subcommittee hearing.

Janet Woodcock, the director of FDA's drug center, said the limits have slowed down the advisory committee process. The agency sometimes goes through the long haul of finding experts in a given field only to discover ties to the pharmaceutical industry toward the end of the process, she said.

The FDA has already begun negotiating with drugmakers and consumer advocates over the reauthorization bill. Thursday's hearing marked the first formal involvement from Congress.

Technically, the purpose of the FDA bill is to reauthorize the programs through which drug and medical device companies pay the FDA to review their products for approval. But because it's a must-pass measure — the people and offices that approve new products are paid for almost entirely by industry fees — it consistently becomes a magnet for broader policy changes.

Upton said Thursday that he also wants to reexamine a piece of the last reauthorization that gave the FDA more power to regulate drugs after they've been approved. The FDA can now require drugmakers to study certain safety issues and add new warnings to drug labels.

Upton and other committee Republicans say FDA overregulation is stifling innovation and preventing drug and device companies from creating new jobs. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) argued that while getting new products to market is important, the FDA's mission should be protecting public health rather than fostering job creation.

Energy and Commerce Democrats indicated that the safety of imported drugs will be their biggest policy focus. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) began working on an import safety bill in 2007, the food-safety portion of which passed on its own in 2009.

The FDA inspects foreign factories far less often than domestic ones, and it can't make a surprise visit outside of the United States. Those limitations received extra scrutiny following the 2007 heparin contamination, which Dingell cited repeatedly at Thursday's hearing.

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