By Patrick J. Kennedy
As scientists and health care professionals work around the clock to decode the COVID-19 virus in hopes of finding a cure or developing a vaccine, the need for a strong biopharmaceutical industry in the U.S. has never been clearer.
The industry is currently working to develop diagnostic tests for states, conducting critical research, and taking steps to develop new therapies. For these reasons and more, Congress and the administration must act now to bolster its progress.
Our leaders must facilitate collaboration between biopharmaceutical companies and U.S. and global public health authorities to maximize existing efforts to combat the virus. After all, the industry is already working to share the timeliest data with government agencies—and both private and public sectors are scanning medicine databases to identify possible avenues for new treatments. Joining forces in a more efficient manner will undoubtedly expedite this painstaking process. However, improving information sharing practices will not be enough on its own. Biopharmaceutical companies must also be able to work hand in hand with government agencies and other global partners when it comes to increasing COVID-19 testing capabilities.
Additionally, it is imperative to prioritize government policies that encourage investment and support of pharmaceutical research, development, and production to speed the discovery and distribution of new vaccines once approved. This can be achieved through extensive public and private partnerships, such as those afforded by the Bayh-Dole Act in 1980.
Political action must also focus on patient access to medications to ensure that people don’t have to jump through hoops to receive the drugs they need. Measures must be drawn to allow 90-day prescription refills without delay. Insurance companies must remove all roadblocks, such as step therapy or prior authorization requirements, and pharmacies must permit early refills. Now, more than ever, policymakers have to be vigilant of political measures that may stall the industry’s efforts during this critical time.
Proposals for government price controls—while a slick talking point for the campaign trail—will only hurt patients by limiting access to essential medications. This will increase pressure on the system and raise the cost of care. A study in the journal Pharmacoeconomics that, which evaluated price control costs to EU firms, found that controls led to 46 fewer new medicines and 1,680 fewer research jobs during the 19-year sample period. The study also found that had the U.S. used similar price controls, it would have led to approximately 117 fewer new medicines and 4,368 fewer research jobs. Options matter when it comes to medication. Treatment is never one-size-fits all. This is a fundamental tenant of quality health care that cannot be explained away. We must be mindful not to put a cap on progress.
There are many uncertainties in our lives right now, but one thing I know for sure is that medical innovation is critical to our ability to navigate COVID-19 and prevent future pandemics. The nation’s biopharmaceutical industry shouldn’t have to operate with one hand tied behind its back. With continued support—from both the federal government and the entire health care community—I believe they can and will develop a vaccine. Let’s do everything we can do support them.