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Merck CEO To Chair Industry Trade Group

Chief executive of Merck took over as chairman of the pharmaceutical industry's trade group as it faces some of the toughest financial and political challenges in years.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The chief executive of Merck on Friday took over as chairman of the pharmaceutical industry's trade group as it faces some of the toughest financial and political challenges in years.
 
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said Merck's Richard Clark was elected to chair its board at the group's annual meeting. The 34-member board is made up of executives from the group's member companies.
 
The pharmaceutical group, consistently one of the top lobbying spenders in Washington, has fought off a slew of proposals unfriendly to its interests since Democrats regained control of Congress in late 2006.
 
Drug lobbyists argued against a proposal in Congress that would have allowed the government -- not private insurers -- to negotiate drug prices for seniors in Medicare. The measure, aimed at wringing lower prices from drug companies, stalled after President Bush threatened to veto it.
 
The group also argued against legislation to let U.S. consumers import cheaper prescription medicines from Canada and other foreign countries. Import advocates have long said that foreign competition would help lower U.S. drug prices, though the effort failed to gain traction in Congress.
 
The group increased its lobbying budget by 25 percent to $22 million for 2007 as Washington lawmakers proposed policies aimed at lowering drug prices -- at the expense of companies' bottom lines.
 
Meanwhile, sales of U.S. prescription drugs fell to their lowest levels in 46 years last year as more expensive, brand-name drugs lost exclusivity to generics.
 
''Together, we must ensure that America's pharmaceutical research companies are able to continue to lead the world in the development of life-changing medicines,'' said Clark in a statement announcing his appointment.
 
Clark, who has led Merck since 2005, replaced Amgen CEO Kevin Sharer as head of the drug industry group.
 
AstraZeneca Chief Executive David Brennan was elected chairman-elect and Pfizer's Chief Executive Jeffrey Kindler was elected treasurer of the board.
 
Former Louisiana Rep. Billy Tauzin is the pharmaceutical industry trade group's president and chief executive.
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