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Pandemic proves importance of pharmaceutical innovation

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If there is one big lesson learned from the COVID pandemic, it is the importance of innovation in this country. We have seen clothing manufacturers making face masks, alcohol producers making hand sanitizer and companies like GM manufacturing ventilators. All of which are examples of American ingenuity in the face of crisis. But there is another example that is undeserving of the bad rep it sometimes receives — pharmaceutical innovation.

The vast majority of the world’s pharmaceutical innovation comes out of the U.S. We produce some of the most vital drugs for people around the globe. In the case of COVID, our pharmaceutical companies have risen to the challenge and have developed vaccines in less than a year. These vaccines will play a critical role in allowing life to get back to normal for most Americans. 

In addition to the quick development of the vaccines, manufacturers were ready to go as soon as they had FDA approval. As a result, more than half the population has gotten at least one dose of the vaccine in roughly four months. The incredible effort it took to accomplish that should not be overlooked.

Pharmaceutical companies have taken a beating in the media for the last several years over drug pricing and accessibility, and in response, state legislatures have supported bad policies like price controls and importing drugs from Canada. But the current pandemic shows us the importance of innovation in this area and why investment in pharmaceutical innovation is vital to the health and safety of Americans.

On average, taking a drug from a molecule to a marketable medicine costs $2.6 billion and is a 10-year process. Companies that develop the drugs have a patent on their product for 20 years. The patent life starts to run while the company is developing the drug, often leaving a company only a handful of years to recoup their investment in that drug — and that is if the drug makes it through clinical trials and gets FDA approval. New drugs routinely fail during clinical trials, costing companies millions. Yet, these companies continue to develop and innovate.

That is why President Biden’s recent decision to waive patents for the vaccine is so detrimental. The U.S. leads in pharmaceutical innovation due to our strong intellectual property protections and free market pricing system. Patents are a necessary part of innovation. Without them, companies would not take on the massive cost of developing new drugs. By waiving the patents for the vaccine, President Biden is starting us down a slippery slope which could result in other patents being waived or challenged leading us to a much larger problem. It is a dangerous precedent to set.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) recently commented on the patent waiver saying, “Intellectual property protections are part of the reason we have these life-saving products. If these protections are not in place for innovators of life-saving medicines, we will not have them for the next pandemic. It’s that simple,” and he’s right.

Pharmaceutical innovation has saved countless lives and allows us to live longer and have a better quality of life. Instead of treating drug manufacturers like the villain, policymakers should be looking for ways to support and encourage their work. The COVID pandemic has illustrated just how important it is to our everyday life.

Brooklyn Roberts is the senior director of the health and human services task force at the American Legislative Exchange Council; she previously served as campaign manager for Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange’s successful re-election campaign. She holds a Juris Doctorate from the University of Alabama. Follow her on twitter @BrooklynRoberts

Tags American innovation Clinical trial COVID vaccine drug pricing Intellectual property Joe Biden Luther Strange medication costs Patent Pharmaceutical industry Research and development Richard Burr Vaccination vaccine patent waiver

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