Iowa republican Charles Grassley is set to relinquish chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee when the new Congress convenes this month. Less certain is the direction his successor, Montanan Max Baucus, will take concerning the ongoing probe into pharma educational grants.

Caryn McDowell, counsel and director of corporate compliance, Millennium Pharmaceuticals, said it’s hard to predict where the investigation will go from here. “Potentially we will get some data from the companies subpoenaed and a report from the (the committee),” she said, adding that there also may be internal investigations that the committee has yet to reveal.

Grassley has scrutinized medical-education grants given by some 23 drug firms, saying he suspects firms may be using grants as opportunities for off-label promotion and kickbacks. The firms have answered his call for data but so far his inquiry has not resulted in public enforcement.
Will that change under Baucus? “I don’t necessarily think [CME] will be at the forefront of his committee,” McDowell said.

Baucus, a Democrat, might put more of an emphasis on how much the government pays for drugs vs. the issue of payments by drug firms to persons and organizations with regard to educational grants. “He’s more interested in the Medicare Modernization Act and ensuring the pharmaceutical industry is playing by the rules,” McDowell said.

Baucus, serving in his fifth term in the US Senate, has given few indications of his priorities when he takes the gavel. At press time, Baucus’ office did not return a phone call from MM&M.

In Grassley’s last communiqué, issued to companies a year ago, he noted that grant processes had not been universally reformed and expressed concern that many manufacturers’ sales and marketing personnel maintain a role in evaluating requests. 

Despite the changeover, Grassley is likely to stay involved in the probe. Said McDowell: “This is an issue that’s near and dear to his heart.”