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The Cause Endures

June 27, 2012
By David Welch, M2 MultiMedia Communications

In producing this short form mini-documentary, I learned that neither the conservatives who tried always to make Senator Ted Kennedy the poster child of all that was liberal nor the die-hard liberals who adored his every move had him quite right. This is especially true when examining his aggressive pursuit of his lifelong cause to improve the health of patients. It was a cause that propelled him into an early understanding of the potential of biotechnology and made him an ardent supporter of bio-medical research as a way to improve people’s lives. His proactive application of government spending would help carve his legacy as the so-called “Liberal Lion” of the Senate. But in devoting several decades to creating federal policies that would ultimately provide the foundation for the biotech industry to succeed, Kennedy also worked closely with business and industry leaders and senior Republican lawmakers to achieve some of his most cherished goals. In his relentless pursuit of healing treatments and securing a positive environment for biotech discovery and investment, Kennedy would not hesitate to oppose his own party. This was most dramatically seen in Kennedy’s support of the all-important 12-years of data exclusivity for biologics, when even President Obama was on the other side of the debate.

Senator Kennedy’s list of life science policy achievements was extensive. Long before “biotechnology” was a household word, even as early as the mid-1970s, Kennedy was openly discussing such breakthrough new concepts as recombinant DNA. By the 1980s and continuing well into the next decade, Senator Kennedy was actively pursuing his vision for better health by successfully leading the charge on such new laws as the Orphan Drug Act that facilitated the development of drugs to treat rare diseases, FDA user fee laws that created a special niche for biotechnology companies, and accelerated approval for drugs that treated life threatening diseases. Before the 1990s were over, Kennedy would successfully fight for a doubling of funds for the NIH, a crucial victory for Kennedy, the industry, and the patients he championed.

In the video, BIO president and CEO Jim Greenwood makes the observation that we can have great science and great people but the policies that surround the science are also critical. In pursuing his vision of better health for all patients, a vision that his widow, Vicki Kennedy, calls the “cause of his lifetime,” the Senator had plenty of willing partners. One key partner was conservative Republican Senator Orrin Hatch. The video devotes a significant segment to this legendary relationship that helped produced such common ground policies as the Prescription Drug User Fee Act, the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Interestingly, the only two of Kennedy’s former Senate colleagues interviewed in the film are Republicans: Former Majority Leader Bill Frist and Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi. In the video you feel the admiration and esteem they had for their late colleague.

My favorite interview was Victoria Reggie Kennedy, which was conducted in her Boston home. She was warm and gracious as she explained to us what drove her husband’s intense devotion to bio-medical research. “My husband said the 21st Century was the century of the life sciences,” she shares. However, I enjoyed all of the interviews. Like Jim Greenwood, industry leaders such as Henri Termeer and John Malaganore give the Senator great credit for helping the industry move forward. And former Kennedy staff leaders Larry Horowitz, his longtime chief of staff, and David Nexon, Kennedy’s former senior health policy advisor, deliver an insightful perspective.

As always, I wish to thank my production team, especially Emily Deckelman, Stephen Zippe, Kevin Bradley, Catherine Doyle, and Bruce McKenzie. We especially appreciate the Edward M. Kennedy Institute and the Biotechnology Industry Organization for sponsoring “The Cause Endures.” The film will be premiered on June 20, 2012, in support of the Edward M. Kennedy Bio-Medical Innovation Fund.