The Right Prescription for Biomed Innovation

This article was originally published in CommonWealth Magazine on June 5, 2018.

JUST AS ATLANTA has a booming film industry and Silicon Valley has become synonymous with technology, Boston has earned its place as America’s hometown for biomedical innovation. With a hyper-educated workforce, a cutting-edge biopharma and medical device sector, and massive investments in research and development, it’s no wonder Beantown has seen such a surge in its innovation economy over the past few years.

So, it’s appropriate that more than 16,000 biotechnology and pharmaceutical leaders from around the world are gathering in Boston this week for the 2018 BIO International Convention. But, it’s more than just networking and educational seminars; these professionals are collaborating to keep America at the forefront of transformations in medicine, biomanufacturing, cell therapy, digital health, and everything in between.

It may come as a surprise to many that protecting intellectual property is a common thread throughout this conference. But for creators and inventors, for researchers and scientists, it’s not surprising at all.

Intellectual property rights enable smart entrepreneurs to make the high-risk, long-term investments that disrupt outdated industrial norms and make life better in previously unimaginable ways. It’s the bedrock upon which life-saving medicines and treatments are founded – the basis for groundbreaking developments in food production, agriculture, and environmental sustainability.

Studies show that it takes up to $2.6 billion to bring a new medicine to market. Moreover, 90 percent of medicines that start safety and efficacy testing never make it to market at all. With such great costs – and even greater risks – biotech companies rely on intellectual property protections to enable a return on their enormous investments. Each successful innovative medicine must contribute to the overall costs of the research and development pipeline in order to sustain investment in tomorrow’s cures.

Unfortunately, many countries actively work against sustainable biotech investment, either by undermining intellectual property rights or by imposing artificial price controls on new medicines. Such countries piggy-back on both the success of Boston’s biomedical community and the purses of the American people. As a result, these countries degrade the value of innovation – a problem that the U.S. Chamber’s Global Innovation Policy Center is working to address at BIO2018 and beyond.

Fair value for innovation translates far beyond investment rates; it is critical to patients and shared health progress. Just last year, the Food and Drug Administration approved a record-breaking 46 new drugs, including the first treatment for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig disease, a rare neurological disease affecting between 14,000 and 15,000 Americans.

Across the world, in countries at all levels of income and development, life expectancy is up, maternal and infant mortality rates are down, and people are living healthier, more productive lives. As Harvard psychologist, Steven Pinker, said to Bill Gates, “It almost makes you believe in this old-fashioned thing called progress.”

While we’ve come a long way to fight sickness and disease, we’re still battling many. From cancer, which has touched nearly every person in the world, to reemerging deadly viruses such as Ebola, researchers are working every day to find cures. Strong intellectual property protections are the surest way to encourage medical innovation and save lives.

Further, intellectual property is a major driver of economic growth. It supports dozens of industries, significant job creation, and America’s competitiveness on the global stage. The intellectual property industry in America employs over 45 million people and is worth $6.6 trillion, more than the nominal GDP of any other country in the world.

In Massachusetts alone, there are 1.4 million jobs supported by intellectual property, contributing $154.9 billion to the economy. Gov. Charlie Baker, too, understands the magnitude of potential innovation and how that affects the Commonwealth. He has shown significant commitment to creators and is investing heavily in Massachusetts colleges and universities as well as in private and public research and development.

But we cannot rest on the laurels of investment alone. Though the United States has robust copyright, patent, and trademark laws and strictly enforces against infringement, we must always encourage even stronger protections both at home and abroad, especially as trade negotiations heat up.

This week’s BIO Convention should serve as a stark reminder. Thousands of the leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology leaders from around the world are in one place – America’s own cradle of research and development. With the power of the American and the global intellectual property system – and a commitment to fortify both even further – maybe the next life-changing invention or life-saving cure will come out of it.

Patrick Kilbride is the senior vice president for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Innovation Property Center.

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