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  March 8th, 2016 | Written by

U.S. Leadership in Biomedical Innovation Under Threat

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  • The left wants to limit for-profit drug development as a way to hem in corporations and redistribute income.
  • The right wants to limit federally supported life-sciences research as a way to shrink government.
  • Proposals from the political left and right “would significantly reduce life sciences innovation,” says ITIF report.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) reported that the U.S. system for discovering and developing new medicines—long the world’s most effective and competitive—is under increasing threat as the populist left and libertarian right undercut bipartisan support for federal investments in scientific research and for intellectual property protections and a pricing system that gives private industry strong incentive to innovate.

ITIF’s analysis, titled “Why Life-Sciences Innovation is Politically ‘Purple’—and How Partisans Get It Wrong,” concludes that if the long-established center cannot hold on this issue, then the widening political divide will mean less life-sciences innovation and increased health care costs and reduced improvements in longevity and quality of life for average Americans.

“Drug populists on the left want to limit for-profit drug development as a way to hem in corporations and redistribute income to consumers,” said ITIF President Robert. D. Atkinson, the report’s author. “Drug libertarians on the right want to limit federally supported life-sciences research as a way to shrink government and redistribute income to taxpayers. But both sides are wrong. Their respective proposals would significantly reduce life sciences innovation, increase future health care costs, and lead the U.S. bio-pharma industry into competitive decline.”

The report analyzes prevailing arguments on the left and right about the alleged failures of business and government, respectively, and finds them lacking.

Prevailing Argument 1: Government and industry invest in the wrong areas. In each side’s argument to shrink government or industry’s role in drug development, partisans suggest that the entity they disparage does not fund the right research, and that the United States would be better off having the other entity do it instead.

Prevailing Argument 2: Government and industry waste money. Both sides impugn the efficiency of the side they want to shrink, arguing that it wastes money. Because of this waste, reduced revenues—either less government funding to agencies or less market revenues to drug companies—will not hurt innovation. Cutting funding will just force the government or industry to become more efficient and focused.

Prevailing Argument 3: Government and industry R&D is not needed for drug discovery and development. Advocates on both sides know they need a narrative for how their agenda will not hurt innovation. This is because both sides know that their agendas will likely not gain adherents unless they can assuage fears that their plans will limit bio-pharma innovation.

“The one area where drug populists and drug libertarians agree is that they both privilege current consumption over future innovation,” said Atkinson. “But generating innovation, whether in drugs or any other product or service, requires setting aside current consumption in order to hopefully achieve some future benefit. If we go down the path either side outlines, it will only lead us backward. It is time for policymakers to renew their long-standing bipartisan consensus on this issue and ensure the United States continues to lead in bio-pharma innovation.”