“The pharmaceutical industry is at a reputational bottom,” Greenwood said in an interview with POLITICO, noting the shift from earlier points in his lobbying career when lawmakers struck compromises to balance incentives for new medical innovation and cheaper drugs.
BIO is less well known than its K-street counterpart PhRMA, which represents a much smaller set of big-name drug companies. BIO’s larger and more diverse membership means the group often has a wider lobbying agenda than PhRMA.
A Republican, Greenwood represented Pennsylvania’s eighth district in Congress before joining BIO in 2005. He served as subcommittee chair of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight Subcommittee from 2001 to 2004. The House E&C Committee is one the primary House committees with jurisdiction over the drug industry and government agencies that impact the industry.
Greenwood dismissed the notion that he was able to exert influence in Washington due to his political connections. No one is “voting for a bill or against a bill in Congress because they served with me or they liked me or I’m one of them,” he said. “They have to be convinced on the merits.”
One of his big wins, Greenwood says, was ensuring that when lawmakers created a pathway for copycat versions of biologic medicines, known as biosimilars, while shaping Obamacare, branded biologics were given 12 years of marketing exclusivity before the cheaper biosimilars could compete. The biosimilar measure was bipartisan, though it ultimately made it into the very partisan 2010 health insurance overhaul.
The environment that allowed for that type of compromise doesn’t exist anymore, Greenwood said, “and I think it’s tragic.”
“We have been living for the past several years in a very new environment for the biopharma industry. I have been in the industry for over 30 years and there have been ebbs and flows in societal estimations of the industry, I personally have not experienced the lows as they exist today before in my career,” said Ron Cohen, BIO board member and President & CEO of Acorda Therapeutics.
In the early mid-90s, Forbes surveys showed the drug industry was the most admired in the country, Cohen said. The most recent survey shows the industry “dead last in the estimation of Americans ,” he said, on par with tobacco and alcohol companies, though it “has never produced more remarkable, lifesaving, life-changing drugs than it is right now.”
BIO will be looking for a leader to replace Greenwood who can help bridge this credibility gap, someone who “allows the industry to take advantage of the explosive new science that is out there” with new and better lifesaving drugs, while making sure the drugs don’t bankrupt people and improving the public’s esteem for the industry, Cohen said.
“These are very tall orders starting from where we are right now,” he said.
The new leader must be willing to call out drug companies that don’t price their medicines responsibly, said BIO Board Chair Jeremy Levin, while pointing to how other parts of the health system, like insurers and hospitals, are increasingly making drug access harder for patients.
Levin doesn’t blame Greenwood for the current animosity faced by the drug industry in Washington. “The reputational aspects of the industry are not on Jim’s shoulders,” said Levin, the CEO of Ovid Therapeutics. “I think he did as good as job as he possibly could” given the current environment.
Greenwood said he saw his work at BIO as an extension of a career committed to public service and the public good. After he leaves the drug lobby he may seek to work on environmental or climate change issues, he said.
“When I decided to leave Congress a lot of people were disappointed. They said, ‘Oh, you know you are going to the dark side.’ My first answer was these people make medicines, they don’t make napalm. And secondly there isn’t enough money in the world for me to go run the national cement association. No offense to national cement association,” Greenwood said.
Levin and Cohen said BIO wants the best-qualified person to replace Greenwood, and they are interested in having a woman or a minority candidate, they said, adding that the replacement could be another former politician, or someone with leadership in medicine or regulatory affairs.
“The job is to find someone who in their own way will be as positively impactful as Jim was,” Cohen said. “Given that we are living in a different time with escalating challenges … almost by definition that person will have a somewhat different profile.”