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


July 17, 2023


Despite outstanding credentials and bipartisan support from former NIH Directors, Dr. Monica M. Bertagnolli's nomination to serve as the next director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) faces obstruction from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP). 

The Senator refuses to have a hearing on Dr. Bertagnolli's nomination unless the Administration agrees to use new, and unprecedented, government price setting authority over private sector life science innovators.  

The Senator is calling on the administration to distort the Bayh-Dole Act—a historic bipartisan law fueling today's medical breakthroughs—to enact overreaching government price controls. For over forty years, this landmark act has catalyzed American innovation, spurred medical advancements, transformed scientific ideas into tangible treatments for millions of patients, and solidified the U.S. as a global frontrunner in medical discoveries and cures. 

Here are three reasons price controls are a bad idea: 

1. Undermining new cures and businesses

  • The Bayh-Dole Act fosters over 15,000 medical start-ups and contributes an estimated $1.9 trillion to the economy. Misusing the act could stifle American entrepreneurship and slow down the pipeline of new treatments and cures reaching patients, affecting the well-being of people across the country. 
  • While public agencies like NIH a fund important research, it is the government’s partnership with the private sector that transforms these discoveries into lifesaving and life altering medications and therapies 

2. Confiscating private sector innovations

  • Senators Bayh and Dole crafted "march-in rights" in the Bayh-Dole Act to spur innovation, not to regulate prices. Misusing these rights could disrupt public-private partnerships, delay crucial life science advancements, and deter private-sector collaboration, undermining its goal of transforming academic research into patient-ready medicine. 

3. Resurrecting tried and failed policies

The Senator also demands to reintroduce "Reasonable Pricing Clauses,” or price controls with another name, to contracts between the federal government and private sector innovators. The name is misleading, and past attempts at implementing such clauses were unsuccessful and had damaging effects on scientific innovation. 

  • According to Dr. Harold Varmus, M.D., President Clinton's NIH Director at the time, in a press release discussing the removal of the reasonable price clauses, "has driven industry away from potentially beneficial scientific collaborations with Public Health Service scientists without providing an offsetting benefit to the public." 

Bottom line: Protecting medical progress, boosting public-private partnerships, delivering a new generation of life saving and life altering medications, and ensuring the NIH's success is vital. Senator Bernie Sanders' attempt to block Dr. Monica M. Bertagnolli's nomination to serve as NIH director unless the Administration bends to his demands undermines this success. Congress must resist these efforts, and every member of the Senate HELP Committee should call on him to hold Dr. Bertagnolli’s confirmation hearing and swiftly confirm her.  

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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