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Projects such as UConn's Bioscience Connecticut aim to keep state on biotech's leading edge

By DAVID ROCHE

Publication: The Day

Published April 08. 2012 4:00AM   Updated April 08. 2012 10:52AM
An artist's rendering of the planned renovation of the UConn Health Center's research facilities to attract students and researchers and act as a feeder for both research funding and private-sector offshoots.

In the coming months, the University of Connecticut will begin construction on its Bioscience Connecticut project. It's an initiative designed to increase biotech research productivity and help startup biotech firms get off the ground.

Efforts like this one will help keep Connecticut - and the United States - at the forefront of this key industry worldwide. Considering how many jobs this sector generates - especially in construction and building - it's critical to maintain our global lead.

The United States currently leads the world in biomedical innovation. But this position is precarious, according to a recent study by the Milken Institute. The enormous rewards that investments in biotech reap haven't gone unnoticed by global competitors, now aggressively pursuing policies to close the gap with the United States.

Policymakers must take immediate steps to maintain our competitive advantage in this sector vital to the health of the U.S. economy.

The biopharmaceutical industry contributes an impressive $917 billion to the U.S. economy. According to a study from Battelle, the well-known research firm, the industry supported nearly 675,000 direct jobs in 2009.

The ripple effect is even more impressive. For every new bioscience job, another six are supported across the economy, bringing the total employment impact to more than 4 million.

In Connecticut alone, about 30,000 residents work in the industry, which contributes over $14 billion to the state's economy.

As the sector expands and new facilities are needed, a significant number of new jobs are generated each year in the construction and building fields. For example, the Bioscience Connecticut project will create 3,000 construction jobs annually between 2012 and 2018.

Connecticut's success in biotech is sustained by heavy investment in research and development and projects like Bioscience Connecticut. In 2008, our colleges and universities spent 81 percent of research expenditure in biosciences - $595 million in total.

It's no accident. The best way to encourage pharmaceutical innovation is an emphasis on investment - creating a favorable climate for business to operate.

For many years, the United States has been a world leader in fostering biotech investment. Patent protection laws were extended to drugs. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process was streamlined. That FDA seal of approval became the world's gold standard.

The incentives to research and produce in America became irresistible. As firms transplanted to American soil, an ecosystem of innovation blossomed. More than 50 percent of patents issued worldwide in 2010 were American.

The present dominance is far from guaranteed in the future, however. Other nations are aggressively working to close the gap.

The EU introduced its $2.66 billion Innovated Medicines Initiative to boost competitiveness in research. In 2009, China's National Development and Reform Commission initiated 20 venture capital funds, many focused on increasing biomedical innovation.

In 2011, the average corporate tax rate for Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development member countries was 25.4 percent. In contrast, the U.S. rate was 39.2. Lower rates attract foreign investment and offer powerful incentives for firms to relocate.

In addition, the FDA review process has lagged behind that of the EMA, its European counterpart, in recent years. High safety standards must be maintained, but efficiency is also important.

Fortunately, lawmakers have the opportunity to keep America globally competitive. Reauthorizing the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA) will provide the FDA with a source of stable funding and allow the agency to make necessary improvements.

Since the original passage of PDUFA, patients have experienced faster access to over 1,500 new medicines, as review times fell approximately 60 percent. Reauthorizing the act will ensure the FDA can continue to make safe and effective new drugs available to patients in an efficient and consistent manner.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the state legislature deserve tremendous credit for initiatives like Bioscience Connecticut. But there is only so much any single governor or legislature can do.

Biomedical innovation is essential to America's future prosperity and to our state's continued economic recovery and job creation. We must pursue public policies that support medical breakthroughs crucial for both their life-saving potential and our economic growth.

David Roche is business manager, Sheet Metal Workers Local Union 40 and president of the Connecticut State Building and Construction Trades Council.

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