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WASHINGTON — With little fanfare and minimal debate, a key Senate committee voted Thursday to advance legislation that aims to spur the development of new generic drugs and in turn, lower drug prices.

A bipartisan majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee overwhelmingly passed the legislation, known as the CREATES Act, by a 16-5 vote. The legislation seeks to give generic companies a way to sue brand- name drug makers when they inappropriately deny access to samples of their products, which generic makers need to develop their competing drugs.

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