Brad Watts Brad Watts
Vice President, Patents and Innovation Policy, Global Innovation Policy Center (GIPC), U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Anna Vredenburgh Anna Vredenburgh
Director, Health Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


April 30, 2024


The public and private sectors have long been complimentary partners in the fight against cancer, and together, they’ve made remarkable progress. Since the mid-1970s, the five-year relative survival rate for cancer patients has risen from 49% to 68%. In other words, tens of thousands of American lives have been saved because of our successful public-private partnerships.

It’s no coincidence that, during roughly that same period, America’s innovative life-science industries have multiplied their collective investment in research and development tenfold. And federal support for the National Institutes of Health, which funds much of the basic biomedical research that helps us understand disease, more than doubled.

As a result of these efforts, between 2010 and 2019, the FDA approved twice as many new drugs as it did a decade earlier, many of them developed to treat even the most aggressive, debilitating cancers. The federal government and the innovative biopharmaceutical industry have an impressive track record.

Yet, a new proposal from the Biden Administration aims to confiscate the patents on medicines from their rightful owners in the pharmaceutical sector, setting the U.S. back in the fight against cancer and leaving every patient betting on a lifesaving or life-altering treatment empty-handed.

Why the Bayh-Dole Act unleashed innovation: For more than 40 years, the Bayh-Dole Act has connected publicly funded scientists conducting foundational research with private-sector innovators willing and able to turn it into impactful products, like new medicines. Before Bayh-Dole, not a single drug had been developed using patents generated with government funding.

Bayh-Dole has been the catalyst of public-private collaboration, driving advancements in cancer diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. Without those strong partnerships that respect property rights, the free enterprise system’s capacity to deliver new medicines for cancer patients will be severely diminished.

A proven system undermined: Regrettably, that’s exactly where we’re headed. If the government seizes private property, it will destroy the incredible progress we’ve made and all future progress. The government’s own studies show that pioneering pharmaceutical companies bringing a single medicine to market already spend more than double the money the federal government spends on research in an entire year.

Without the promise property rights offer for a reasonable return on such massive investments, there won’t be any more investments made, meaning there won’t be as many new medicines making it to market.

Price controls further exacerbate the problem: According to the U.S. Chamber’s research, the threat of property confiscation and price controls will result in 29% to 44% fewer medicines in all therapeutic areas, including cancer. Worse still, our research shows that price controls will cause cancer research to drop by almost 60%.

These findings are supported by anecdotal indications from America’s most innovative life-science companies, many of whom have publicly stated that simply proposing to use Bayh-Dole’s march-in clause to control prices has already impacted their investment decisions and R&D planning.

Too little, too late: The Chamber’s Patient Access Report showed that in other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries that have implemented price controls like the Biden Administration’s, patients have significantly diminished access to medicines.

For instance, before the Biden Administration began its pursuit of price controls, out of 104 new cancer medicines released globally, 80% were made available in the U.S., while only 58% were made available in European countries with price control mechanisms. Not to mention, when the medicines did become available in Europe, it was only after a lengthy delay. In Germany, patients waited an average of 133 extra days for proper access; in Spain, patients waited up to 500 extra days. Consider that in the context of cancer: for cancer patients, even one day can be the difference between life and death. 

Course correction at a crossroads: There is still time to fix this problem and get it right. The Biden Administration and Congress can reject price controls and the threat of property confiscation and embrace instead the foundational values of our world-leading innovation ecosystem.

They can return to the pro-public-private partnership principles that defend, protect, and promote the best of both public research and free enterprise. The business community stands ready to collaborate for cancer cures, but they can only do that if the Biden Administration will stand up for free enterprise.  

About the authors

Brad Watts

Brad Watts

Brad Watts is the Vice President for Patents and Innovation Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Global Innovation Policy Center (GIPC). He works with U.S. Chamber members to foster a political, legal, and economic environment where innovators and creators can invest in the next big thing for the benefit of Americans and the world.

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Anna Vredenburgh

Anna Vredenburgh

Anna Vredenburgh is the director for health policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce