What Menendez just did that adds fuel to debate over his Senate foe's move against generic drugs

WASHINGTON — For U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, Republican challenger Bob Hugin’s record as Celgene Corp.’s top executive is fertile ground for attacks on the campaign trail.

Now he just tweaked his opponent again, adding his name to legislation that Hugin fought against while at Celgene.

Menendez, D-N.J., became one of the latest co-sponsors of the Creating and Restoring Equal Access to Equivalent Samples, or CREATES Act, designed to make it easier for generic manufacturers to get supplies of brand-name drugs so they can produce lower-cost alternatives.

“For anyone who has struggled with a chronic condition like high blood pressure or depression, the ability to afford your medication is not just a matter of health. It’s a matter of wealth,” Menendez said. “That’s why we need to make sure our laws support healthy competition in the pharmaceutical marketplace.”

Under Hugin, Celgene last year spent $2.8 million on lobbying, its most ever, as it helped block the bill, which could have sped up an alternative to its best-selling cancer drug Revlimid.

Hugin fought to keep drug prices high

Menendez endorsed the legislation at a May press conference, but wasn’t added as a co-sponsor until another Republican also agreed to back the bill. That allowed the bill to have an equal number of Republican and Democratic senators on board. The House version’s sponsors also are equally divided between the two parties.

The incumbent has sought to make Hugin’s stewardship of Celgene an issue as he deflected attacks against his own ethical problems. Menendez was “severely admonished” by the Senate Ethics Committee for accepting gifts from a friend and campaign donor, Dr. Salomon Melgen, while intervening with federal agencies on his behalf.

Menendez also was indicted for his actions on behalf of Melgen, who later went to prison for Medicare fraud. After a jury deadlocked on the charges, a federal judge dismissed some of them and the U.S. Justice Department dropped the rest. 

Under Hugin, Celgene paid a $280 million federal penalty to settle a fraud case and was singled out by President Donald Trump‘s administration for placing barriers in the way of companies trying to make a generic version of Revlimid.

Both Menendez and Hugin won their primaries June 5, though community newspaper publisher Lisa McCormick received a surprisingly strong 38 percent of the vote in the Democratic race.

Jonathan D. Salant may be reached at jsalant@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @JDSalant or on Facebook. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook. 


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