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AbbVie rockets to the top of the industry’s lobbying ranks

AbbVie spent nearly $4 million on lobbying in the first three months of 2022 alone — more than any other drugmaker spent in the same period, and nearly a million dollars more than the company has ever spent in a single quarter. That record spend made AbbVie the seventh-highest corporate lobbying spender last quarter, ahead of giants like Lockheed Martin, CVS Health, and, AT&T.

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The company attributed “most of” the dramatic increase to rising trade association dues in a statement, but declined to detail which dues had gone up or by how much. Its external lobbying costs only increased by about $120,000.

AbbVie is facing a tough transition next year, with looming competition coming to market to challenge its blockbuster drug Humira. Democrats’ ambitious drug pricing plans could make a bad situation even worse. Read more in a deep dive story with my colleague Nick Florko.

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AstraZeneca’s ambitious vaccine dreams are finally, officially dead

AstraZeneca was once the world’s best bet to develop a speedy Covid-19 vaccine, and the company got a bigger initial contract from Operation Warp Speed than any other drugmaker.

But AstraZeneca’s unfortunate vaccine saga came to an end in December, when the White House quietly canceled its contract, documents published by STAT show.

AstraZeneca told us that its contract for 300 million doses was structured so payments would be sent upon delivery. The government only ended up paying for 70 million doses, the documents show, which means the cancellation did save some money. Depending on when it’s released, that extra cash could be helpful to the White House while it scrounges for more Covid-19 relief funds. (Actually canceling the contract wasn’t a huge surprise, since AstraZeneca decided not to file for emergency use authorization in the United States.)

Still, the cancellation is a blow to the Biden administration’s global vaccine push. The White House had hoped to donate tens of millions of those AstraZeneca doses to other countries, but according to a recent report released by the House Oversight Committee, at least 105 million AstraZeneca doses were destroyed following manufacturing issues at an Emergent Biosolutions plant. The White House still hasn’t publicly announced the cancellation, and didn’t respond to a request for comment.

A looming and unexpected shakeup for CBD makers

On Tuesday, Senate lawmakers tacked an unexpected provision onto a must-pass FDA bill — one that has the potential to seriously shake up the market for CBD, Nick reports.

The change is wonky – it would make it illegal to sell a product as a dietary supplement that doesn’t meet the definition of a dietary supplement. But the FDA has already publicly proclaimed that CBD is a drug, not a supplement — meaning companies that make CBD supplements might be breaking the law if the bill passes.

Daniel Fabricant, the head of the Natural Products Association called it “an attack on the entire industry,” and has already organized a letter writing campaign against the effort.

One major caveat: even if the bill passes, it would be up to the FDA to decide when to crack down — and not everyone is convinced they will. “I’m, for one, a bit skeptical that this would immediately change [things] too much, unless, of course, the FDA completely shifted its enforcement posture,” said Jonathan Havens, an attorney that represents CBD makers.

Capitol Hill notebook

One of the best parts of being a Hill reporter is that as we roam around the building, we can ask lawmakers anything we want. The responses don’t always warrant a full-blown story, but they’re often still interesting. I’m hoping to include some of those exchanges here. Have a burning question for a given Member of Congress? Drop me a line anytime.

This week, I caught up with Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), the lead Democratic senator pushing insulin pricing reform. As other issues like abortion rights, the war in Ukraine, and infant formula shortages have consumed Capitol Hill, I asked her about where her insulin bill with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) stands, as the original goal was to have a vote before Memorial Day — and now it’s mid-May and no bill text has been released.

Never fear, advocates: It’s still in the works, she confirmed to me before she slipped into the Senate chamber for a vote this week. You can read more about the policy she’s working on in the meantime.

What we’re reading

  • Former top Medicare official says Medicare Advantage’s coding industry offers ‘no benefit to society’, STAT
  • The Covid testing company that missed 96% of cases, ProPublica
  • Drugmakers have kept cheaper generic inhalers off the market for years, analysis finds, STAT
  • Why corporate America is afraid to talk about abortion, Fast Company
  • Two dozen states side with HHS in raucous dispute with pharma over 340B, STAT