Thursday, September 29, 2011

Revving the Engine that Propels Us

by Gillian Parrish, Manager, Alliance Development and Communications, FasterCures

Over the past few decades, the U.S. has created and refined an extremely productive framework for developing new biomedical innovations and bringing them to the marketplace.  In fact, the biomedical sector directly and indirectly accounts for some 5 million U.S. jobs, including 1.2 million high-wage private sector jobs in pharma, biotech, medical devices, research and testing. 
However, for the first time since the 1980’s, U.S. preeminence in biomedicine is in jeopardy, vulnerable to falling behind growing powers in Europe and Asia thanks to regulatory, policy, and funding efforts in those nations that offer incentives for innovation and support entrepreneurship in a way the U.S. does not.

The history of our country’s rise to leadership in biomedical innovation, and a suggested roadmap for overcoming the factors that now challenge our dominance in the global market, is the focus of a new Milken Institute Study, The Global Biomedical Industry: Preserving U.S. LeadershipReleased last week at a Washington D.C. briefing co-hosted by the Council for American Medical Innovation, the report offers specific policy recommendations that will ensure the industry continues to grow and flourish here, including:
  • Increase R&D tax incentives and make them permanent.
  • Cut corporate tax rates to match the OECD average.
  • Extend support for emerging biomedical research fields.
  • Provide adequate resources for the FDA and NIH to expedite regulatory reviews and clinical trials.
  • Leverage existing strengths in medical devices.
  • Build human capital for biomedical innovation.
  • Promote and expand the role of universities by adopting best practices in technology transfer and commercialization.
It makes a compelling case for action, and reinforces FasterCures long-held position that no one sector can do this alone.  It will take collaboration – universities and businesses, corporations working together, private equity entrepreneurs willing to invest in high-risk, high-impact R&D models, innovative intellectual property arrangements, etc. – to maintain U.S. leadership in biomedicine. 

“As recently as 1980, European companies dominated the industry,” said Ross DeVol, Chief Researchers at the Milken Institute. “Unless we act soon and act smartly, we’ll wake up in five to ten years with no products and nothing in the pipeline. This is our industry to lose.”

“The alarm this report sets off is very real,” said Jim Greenwood, President and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), at last week's event. “The fear that the U.S. is losing its competitive edge is well-founded.  If we want to have more cancer cures than iPads, we have to invest in them.”

Strengthening the biomedical sector should be central to our country’s economic platform. Government, particularly the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), should work with the private sector to get more and better therapies to patients. 

“The 21st century is going to be the century of life sciences,” said Stephen Ubl, President and CEO of the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed).  “The question is: will it be made in America or somewhere else?” 

Many countries are building the infrastructure for biomedical research, and courting the companies who drive it.  Our current leadership is in question, and comes with no long-term guarantee.  But if the advocacy and policy communities can come together to tap into our nation’s most unique attribute – our collaborative, innovative spirit – we can take the decisive steps necessary to not only maintain, but grow our leadership in biomedicine.


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