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WASHINGTON — Lawmakers quietly tucked a boost for the pharmaceutical industry in the massive, end-of-year spending package they unveiled late Monday — a surprising turn for a Congress that has, at least rhetorically, pushed to rein in pharma’s high prices.

The provision, just three lines and 17 words in a 1173-page bill, would effectively expand the definition of biologic drugs, a category that includes presumably more complicated medicines made from living cells. Biologics get 12 years of patent protection, while so-called small-molecule medicines get five years, and the expansion would mean more new drugs would fit into the more-protected category. That would translate into bigger profits for drug makers and longer waits for consumers eager for cheaper generic drugs.

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