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Grassley Staying Put On Senate Finance Committee

May 7, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

Late last week, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Charles Grassley, was said to be readying to move to a higher position within the Judiciary Committee. The idea of the shift left the U.S. Food and Drug and Administration (FDA) and Big Pharma hopeful, and would have made Grassley the senior Republican on Judiciary, according to a recent Wall Street Journal  piece.

Now, according to a new Journal piece, Grassley is planning on staying put in his position as Republican head of the Senate Finance Committee. According to the Journal, the seat is “one of the centers of power in the health reform debate.” Jeff Sessions will be the Republican Head of the Judiciary until Grassley is able to move into that position at the end of 2010, said the Journal, citing the Associated Press (AP). The Republican slot in the Judiciary opened last week when Arlen Specter changed parties.

Grassley is known for his watchful eye over Big Pharma and the move was believed to take some of the pressure off of those in industry. But following a lunch with Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Max Baucus—committee chair—in which, according to the Des Moines Register, health care reform was the key topic, Grassley will be staying where he is.  For now.

Senator Grassley is well known for investigating the FDA and the pharmaceutical industry in recent years and is also considered to be most responsible for breaking the ongoing and conflicting relationships between industry, researchers, and research institutions, the Journal pointed out. In just under two years, it has been Grassley, added the Journal, who has broken open to the public a variety of industry ties with heavy hitters in medicine such as Joseph Biederman of Harvard University and Charles Nemeroff of Emory University.

Those relationships and the finances that were exchanged have long been making the news and point to biased relationships in which patients are often not the prime concern. Because of Grassley’s investigations, restrictions have been put in place that limit the money researchers accept from Industry, publicize funds received, and restrict consultant and speaker roles, said the Journal. Grassley has also focused his efforts on issues with SSRI antidepressants, Vioxx, medical devices, the antidepressant Paxil, and diabetes drug Avandia, said the Journal, pointing out just a few.

Last year, prominent Emory University professor Charles Nemeroff lost his chairmanship following controversy over payments he received from drug companies. In December, following an internal investigation, Nemeroff stepped down as head of the school’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, a position he held since 1991. Since, Nemeroff and the university have been the subject of a Grassley-urged federal investigation into Nemeroff’s highly compensated activities with Industry.

Biederman’s activities also made for a well-publicized conflict of interest case. A prominent Harvard University psychiatrist, Biederman promised to deliver positive results to major drug maker Johnson & Johnson before the start of some clinical trials for Risperdal (Risperidone), an atypical antipsychotic medication, prompting another investigation by the Senator.

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