Don't impede our medical innovators

America is on the crest of an unprecedented wave of medical breakthroughs. Right now, according to reports, American companies are developing more than 900 new biotech medicines and vaccines to treat more than 100 different diseases.

But even as new biotech treatments are revolutionizing medicine, two innovation-killing policy proposals in Washington would, if enacted, could result in inhibiting this surge of innovation.

Since 2003, biotech innovations have produced new treatments for hemophilia A, colorectal cancer, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, prostate cancer, lupus, lymphoma, and many other afflictions.

These advanced treatments are possible because of cutting edge pharmaceutical research in a category called biologics - drugs derived from living cells or organisms, rather than chemical synthesis. Over the past decade, biologics have accounted for between 18 percent and 42 percent of new drugs approved annually by the Food and Drug Administration.

Looking ahead, a genetically-modified virus-based vaccine to treat melanoma, a monoclonal antibody for the treatment of asthma, a gene therapy medicine for leukemia, and a recombinant fusion protein to treat type 2 diabetes could all soon become a reality.

In Connecticut, we have particular reasons to be proud of our outsize role in helping create new wonder drugs. Since 1999, there have been over 2,000 clinical trials in Connecticut, many on the vanguard of biotechnology. It's also worth noting that drug makers in the state are responsible for over $14 billion of our annual economic output and support nearly 50,000 jobs for Connecticut's residents.

Right now, the law grants pharmaceutical companies 12 years of data protection for new biologics. During this time, other drug makers can't make release competing copies of that biologic and the innovator has a temporary market monopoly. By providing this data protection, regulators are protecting the financial incentive for drug developers to make the massive investment required to finance new research.

In both the president's budget and ongoing international trade negotiations, the White House and its allies in Congress are pushing to shorten that exclusivity period to seven years. If that happens, pharmaceutical companies and venture firms will be less likely to make that upfront investment into new drug lines and the rate of biotech innovation will slow considerably.

It's important to understand how difficult and complex research on biotech drugs is. It takes between 10 and 15 years for a new drug to make it to consumers. Including the cost of failures, each successful drug represents an average $1.2 billion investment by pharmaceutical companies. Shortening the exclusivity period will be a powerful disincentive for these companies to take the costly risks necessary to develop new cures. We need to constantly remind our lawmakers in Washington how important the biotech industry and their innovative research is to the state's economy and to our health and well being.

Tony Sheridan is president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut.

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