Collaborative approach needed on Alzheimer's and biopharmaceutical innovation

 

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If the Obama administration is serious about successfully executing its plan for Alzheimer’s, then it is also critical for all of the partners in the medical innovation ecosystem – academia, federal research institutions, patient advocacy organizations and biopharmaceutical companies – to work collaboratively.  

Biopharmaceutical research companies are now working on nearly 100 medicines in development for Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Most of these potential treatments will never make it to patients. That is the nature of drug discovery and development and underlines the complexity of this devastating and costly disease. Yet, biopharmaceutical companies and their partners continue to invest significantly in the quest to help the millions of patients confronting Alzheimer’s. 

President Obama recently proclaimed, “Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s…Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation. Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race.”

But in his recent budget plan, the president proposes policies that would undermine medical research, discovery and science jobs. These include reducing needed incentives for innovation such as lowering data protection for biologic medicines and imposing government price controls in the Medicare prescription drug program that could negatively impact seniors and disabled Americans, jobs and jeopardize investment in R&D. 

Such inconsistencies are troublesome to venture capitalists and the biopharmaceutical industry, which is the most research-intensive industry in the U.S., and for patients suffering from disease.

America is the bedrock of biopharmaceutical innovation. It ranks first in the world in life sciences employment, with biopharmaceutical research companies alone supporting nearly 4 million jobs in the U.S. 

But independent estimates suggest that a sector impact of $10 to $20 billion – on par with price control measures put forward by the Administration and some in Congress – could result in 130,000 to 260,000 lost jobs nationwide. 

If President Obama wants “Space Race” investments in R&D and, importantly, wants to prevent such investments from going to other countries such as China and India, then it is critical that his policies support and value job-creating and innovative industries here at home.

For over 50 years, improved health and medical innovation has been the source of more than half of all economic growth in the U.S. The biopharmaceutical industry alone has an annual economic impact in the U.S. of $917 billion.

But perhaps most important of all, biopharmaceutical innovation has enormously contributed to the fight against diseases like cancer, HIV/AIDS and heart disease to help those affected live healthier and longer lives.

So how can we as a nation sustain this progress at a time when cost-containment and budget plans hinder medical innovation?

To achieve President Obama’s innovation and job-creation vision, we should adopt the Congressional Budget Office’s long-term view that medicines lead to healthcare savings by reducing the need for expensive hospitalizations, procedures, and other acute and chronic care.  

Take Alzheimer’s for example. More than 5 million Americans currently suffer from Alzheimer’s and in 2050, that number is projected to reach 16 million. Under the current standard of care, that would cost $1.1 trillion per year. With more than 15 million Alzheimer caregivers in the U.S., consider the additional financial and emotion strain on families who are taking care of loved ones.   

But, according to a 2010 report by the Alzheimer’s Association, a medicine that delays the onset of the disease by five years could reduce new cases and save $447 billion per year by 2050. These are the types of savings we need to change the trajectory of health care spending in the U.S. 

Finding effective solutions to help alleviate the emotional and financial burdens related to Alzheimer’s and other diseases will require collective thinking and strong partnerships among academia, federal research institutions, patient advocacy organizations and biopharmaceutical research companies. This isn’t a solo act, it is a collaborative mission.

We have the talent and infrastructure in place, but we must not jeopardize America’s strong research enterprise by short-sighted policies that undermine innovation and progress. 

Castellani is president and CEO of PhRMA (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America).

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