A Plea to Protect Innovation

October 1, 2018 5:43 am

We are in the middle of a revolution. The biopharmaceutical industry is churning out a steady stream of innovative therapies to treat or cure debilitating, often life-threatening diseases. Research that began a generation ago is now producing breakthrough medicines that help people live longer, better lives.

These innovative new drugs treat countless illnesses, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes. This breakthrough medicine is curing once-incurable diseases, such as Hepatitis C, and researchers are on the cusp of future discoveries to treat other devastating disease, including Alzheimer’s and cystic fibrosis.

The results speak for themselves. Cancer deaths have decreased by 26 percent since peaking in the 1990s. The death rate from heart disease has plummeted by nearly 60 percent. Survival rates from HIV/AIDS are even higher. Researchers around the world are in the process of developing more than 7,000 new medicines that could produce new breakthroughs to treat cancer, mental health disorders and infectious diseases.

But this pipeline is under attack. Insurance companies, pharmacy benefit managers and well-funded, politically motivated critics of the biopharmaceutical industry have all waged a sustained campaign to blame drug makers for rising health-care costs. The Laura and John Arnold Foundation, financed by a hedge-fund billionaire who made his initial fortune at disgraced energy firm Enron, has already spent at least $50 million funding these attacks.

The Arnold Foundation has financed a robust network of outside academics, media organizations and pseudo-regulatory organizations to sustain its crusade against the biopharmaceutical industry. Arnold-sponsored research winds up in Arnold-sponsored media outlets that ends up producing Senate hearings or additional stories in other media outlets.

As if those efforts weren’t enough to get the message out, the Arnolds also fund a political group, Patients for Affordable Drugs, to spend millions of dollars in uncompetitive races. The political group, like much of the rest of the Arnold network, is pushing policies with no proven record of lowering drug prices but that could dramatically undercut the incentive structure for the researchers and investors developing these new treatments.

This is expensive work. The average cost to develop a new prescription drug exceeds $2.8 billion, and the process takes more than a decade. Just 10 percent of new treatments make it to Phase 1 Food and Drug Administration testing, and just 10 percent of those drugs are eventually approved. Some 70 percent of those clinical programs are led by small companies, and just a fraction of those FDA-approved medicines ever recoup enough money to pay for their development. That explains by more than nine out of 10 publicly traded biopharmaceutical companies never earn a profit.

Politically, it is easy for candidates and billionaire activists to seize on the list price of a single medicine to blame biopharmaceutical companies for driving health-care costs higher. But those attacks often ignore important details, like the fact that drug prices are growing much slower than other health-care costs, the rebates drug companies offer to make medicine more affordable or that many of these new innovative treatments produce long-term savings. And, in most cases, their political prescriptions would threaten the supply chain of new medicines without actually impacting out-of-pocket costs.

The Alliance to Protect Medical Innovation was created to reintroduce facts into this polarized debate and ensure unfounded political attacks don’t go unanswered. We are in the midst of a major revolution that is helping people live longer, healthier lives. It would be a tragedy for misguided political attacks to disrupt the pipeline of new treatments and cures.