GUEST COMMENTARY: Biopharmaceutical innovation boosts Hoosiers' health, wealth

2013-03-06T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Biopharmaceutical innovation boosts Hoosiers' health, wealthBy Scott Miller
March 06, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Pearl Pathways, a life sciences consulting firm, recently announced plans to expand its operations in Indianapolis. This decision serves as a clear reminder that biopharmaceutical research plays a vitally important role in the Indiana economy.

The Indianapolis-area biopharmaceutical sector is responsible for more than $50 billion in economic output annually. For patients, the new treatments generated by this work can spell the difference between life and death. And for thousands of local workers, life science research provides a strong and secure paycheck.

As the biopharmaceutical sector continues to expand in Indiana, legislators in Indianapolis and Washington need to avoid policies that could undermine future innovation.

Biopharmaceutical research has revolutionized modern medicine. Consider how, in the United States, AIDS has gone from being a death sentence to a manageable disease thanks to antiretroviral therapies. Or how cancer death rates have been cut by 20 percent through innovative and improved treatments. New diabetes drugs have improved patients' lives and reduced the cost of treating this disease.

These are enormous victories for modern science.

But the innovations we have seen in previous decades pale in comparison to the biopharmaceutical developments expected in coming years. There are 5,400 new medicines in the global development pipeline. Seventy percent of those are potentially "first-in-class" medicines, meaning they are entirely new treatments.

Many of these new drugs tackle the toughest problems facing physicians and patients today. For instance, many new drugs in the pipeline may be used to treat diseases for which no new therapies have been approved for over a decade. These include 61 projects researching treatments for ALS, 28 for cervical cancer, 158 for ovarian cancer, and 19 for sickle-cell disease.

At least 500 of these new drugs use cutting-edge sciences like cell therapy and gene therapy. And more than 150 represent "personalized medicines," in which caregivers adapt treatments to the patient's specific genomes. These are the medicines of the future.

There are also a number of new drugs developed to treat diseases and conditions for which there are no viable treatments today -- so-called "orphan diseases." The National Institutes of Health have identified 7,000 such conditions, including pancreatic cancer and Lou Gehrig's. About 25 million people in this country suffer from an orphan disease.

Indiana has been a leader in bringing these "orphan drugs" to market. Of the more than 1,600 active drug trials in our state, some 30 percent are for the treatment of orphan diseases.

Developing innovative medicines is a long, complex, and costly process. Total costs for bringing a drug to market -- including the failures -- average $1.2 billion. It usually takes over a decade between the time a drug is first developed in the lab to when its finally approved for sale. And public policy plays an important role in determining if the biopharmaceutical innovation pipeline stays robust.

Consider the changes Congress is contemplating making to Medicare's prescription drug plan, known as Part D. Some lawmakers want to install Medicaid-style price rebates on the drugs used by low-income beneficiaries. Pharmaceutical companies would be forced to sell their drugs to the government well under market prices.

Medicare Part D has cost significantly less than initially projected. Yet advocates for rebates want to wring further savings from the program. Doing so would choke off the capital for the development of future drugs.

Medical discoveries are improving lives and bringing down health care costs at an amazing clip here in Indiana and across the country. Policymakers must avoid jeopardizing future innovations with foolhardy plans like this rebate proposal.

Scott Miller is president of the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce. The opinions are the writer's.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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