Jul 24, 2020 - 12:45pm

U.S. Innovators Taking Friendly Fire in the Pandemic Fight


Senior Vice President, Global Innovation Policy Center

With the health and security of millions of Americans on the line, U.S. innovators in the bio-pharmaceutical sector are committing everything they have to the fight against COVID-19. Today, an industry that annually re-invests a greater percentage of its revenues than any other into research and development has committed its R&D resources on an unprecedented scale to a single objective: finding safe and effective means to treat and prevent COVID-19 through therapies and vaccines. 

This is a nationwide effort that currently involves well over 600 clinical trials in communities across all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. As many as 13 million Americans—one in every 25—are taking part in these trials, sponsored by government and industry and carried out by scientists, doctors, nurses, and caretakers at local universities, hospitals, and clinics in your community and nationwide. The approaches they are testing are available due to investments spanning decades. 

One such is Gilead’s Remdesivir, a drug sprung from nearly 30 years of anti-viral research by the San Francisco-based company.  For more than a decade, Gilead has tested Remdesivir against viral diseases including Ebola, SARS, MERS—and now with heralded results against COVID-19—each time gaining a better understanding of how to counter viral diseases and manage the body’s own immune responses. 

Remdesivir is one in a pipeline of drug candidates that Gilead invests in to produce tomorrow’s cures. Earlier work by Gilead resulted in tremendous breakthroughs on HIV and Hepatitis C, saving millions of lives. The sobering reality, though, industry-wide, is that 90% of drug candidates in the pipeline will fail. Accordingly, companies on the innovative end of the bio-pharmaceutical manufacturing industry depend on revenues from those rare breakthrough successes to fund the ongoing research and development pipelines that enable them to respond quickly and robustly to a pandemic crisis such as COVID-19. 

Too often, these innovators are inappropriately lumped into a broader debate about the systemic costs of healthcare that fails to acknowledge the unique role innovators play in advancing the state of the art — and treating the previously untreatable. The debate also fails to recognize the inherent risk these innovators operate under as medical trailblazers with a business model whose sustainability depends on one successful product financially supporting many other equally important efforts – one of which may be the key to solving the next health crisis. 

Many, including some in the United States, are making proposals that could harm the ability of these businesses to invest in research, development and deployment. They offer glib statements that ignore the value of the research and development investment that enabled breakthrough medicine to be discovered and the next leading discovery to be positioned for success. As the old saying goes, if it is too good to be true, it is. 

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans have taken a greater interest than ever in understanding the process of innovation that leads to a successful vaccine or therapy. That’s great news. But even now, some political leaders are making proposals to impose artificial price controls on the breakthrough medicines that result from American investment in innovation. That’s a huge problem for innovators who need to keep their eyes on the ball to deliver solutions to COVID-19. 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has developed a number of resources for those who are interested in the economics of innovation in the bio-pharmaceutical sector and beyond:

 

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About the Author

About the Author

Senior Vice President, Global Innovation Policy Center

Kilbride is senior vice president of the Global Innovation Policy Center (GIPC).