Under the Dome

Tillis backs protection for pharmaceutical firms

Sen. Thom Tillis has been trying to work out a compromise on a patent reform bill. The compromise would benefit the pharmaceutical industry by carving out an exemption from a streamlined review process for FDA-approved drugs.

During his campaign for Senate last year, Tillis implied that incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan was beholden to big pharma because it made financial contributions to her re-election campaign.

The bill, currently in the U.S. Senate, is aimed at discouraging “patent trolling” – frivolous patent infringement lawsuits threatened for the sole purpose of collecting lucrative financial settlements. Tillis’ amendment did not become part of the bill, but Politico reports key senators say they will keep working with the pharmaceutical industry as the bill advances.

Tillis told the National Journal that he has heard from constituents in North Carolina, with its Research Triangle Park interests, and he wants to find a compromise to move the bill forward.

"We have to deal with the patent trolls and a lot of things that are affected in the high-tech sector, but we have our life-science, biotech, pharmaceuticals industry, particularly in North Carolina, and we've got to make sure that we don't create more difficulty in the process " Tillis told the National Journal. "I do think that there are unique considerations for high-tech that are different from considerations for life sciences."

The bill passed the committee but is expected to face further revision before it comes to the floor.

Last year, North Carolina enacted a law prohibiting patent trolling.

The Open Secrets website reports Tillis has received $58,000 from the pharmaceutical industry since taking office. In a debate last year that touched on insurance coverage for contraception. Tillis said lowering the cost of contraceptives and making them available over the counter should be considered. He questioned whether that was in Hagan’s interest, because she benefited from campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry.

Hagan received half a million dollars from the industry last year, Open Secrets reports.

Tillis’ spokeswoman Meghan Burris said by email on Monday:

“Senator Tillis introduced the amendment because it aims to bring predictability, stability and certainty to the pharmaceutical patent process. North Carolina is home to the pharmaceutical and banking industries, small inventor entities, the tech sector and the North Carolina University System, all of which are heavily invested in bringing innovative treatments to patients. It’s simply good policy to provide them with a bit more certainty through the patent process.”