Invest in biopharmaceutical companies — our veterans depend on them

In times of crisis, we call on our industries to respond and solve the problem at hand. When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, we immediately looked to our biopharmaceutical industry for a vaccine, and despite our concerns that a vaccine would be years away, the industry delivered three effective and safe options that all Americans could access within a year.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not the only crisis that demonstrates how investing in our biopharmaceutical industry can save lives. When it became clear the U.S. was entering into World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt charged industry leaders with the mission of mass-producing a newly discovered antibiotic, penicillin, to help soldiers and marines ward off deadly infections resulting from wounds. At the time, mass-producing anything was strenuous, but nevertheless, Pfizer set aside its vitamin and chemical productions to focus on manufacturing penicillin. Within a year, nearly every Allied soldier and marine who landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day carried a life-saving penicillin-injection kit made by Pfizer.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is a different sort of war than what was fought on the beaches of Normandy, it demonstrates the pivotal impact of investing in the companies that develop the treatments to help our service members at home and abroad. These investments may be costly, however, they allow veterans to access care to treat chronic diseases and other severe diseases, including toxic exposure-related illnesses, such as certain lung or blood cancers, or post-traumatic stress disorders veterans developed following their tours of duty. 

Considering there are an estimated 23 cancers and respiratory illnesses believed to be linked to toxic exposure and others to be identified, our highest priority lies in ensuring our biopharmaceutical companies have the resources available so they can research and develop the medicines to treat veterans and the illnesses they’ve incurred from war.

As the former secretary of Veterans Affairs and a Vietnam veteran myself, I’ve dedicated my life to ensure our veterans have access to essential health care, including new drugs and treatments to help veterans suffering from toxic exposure. As such, it’s vital to advocate for policies that allow for continued investments in the biopharmaceutical industry, considering they are the ones developing the innovative treatments our veterans desperately need.

recent study exposed the dangers of government intervention in the drug pricing system which would result in 61 fewer medicines developed by small and emerging biotech companies over 10 years. With a reduction in earnings by nearly 62 percent for both large and small biopharmaceutical companies, a radical industry consolidation would likely occur, shrinking market entry of new drugs.

Cutting back on drug research and development doesn’t sound like a solution to me, nor is it how we repay those who fight for our country. I urge policymakers to not implement policies that would restrict our biopharmaceutical companies’ extraordinary innovation that has become a lifeline for veterans living with toxic exposure-related illnesses. Had our policymakers not seen the value of our industries back in World War II, there may have been a very different outcome, and without question, many more lives lost. Let’s learn from history which demonstrates that when called upon, drug makers will deliver the innovative and lifesaving treatments we need to survive a crisis, and therefore investing in their progress is how we can care for our veterans now and in the future.

Anthony Principi was the former United States secretary of Veterans Affairs (2001-2005).

Tags biopharmaceutical medicines Secretary of Veterans Affairs toxic exposure veteran health Veteran health care Veterans Veterans Affairs

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