Plea for President's State of the Union: Support Medical Innovation

It's our hope that during the President's State of the Union address he will outline a plan that fosters medical innovation to help bolster the economy, control health care costs and improve Americans' health.
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Next week, President Obama will report to Congress and the American people on the condition of our nation and his policy proposals for the coming year. In an era of deficit reduction, systemic transformation of health care in this country and increasing global competition, it is our sincere hope that President Obama will outline a plan that fosters medical innovation to help bolster the economy, control health care costs and improve Americans' health and productivity.

We should all take pride in the fact that the United States leads the world in researching and developing new medicines. This is only possible because of the hard work that bio-pharmaceutical research companies do every day, in collaboration with academic researchers and other public and private sector partners. But what is often unrecognized is the fact that in doing such work, our industry has helped create millions of U.S. jobs, contributes billions of dollars to the national economy and provides U.S. patients with the first opportunity to access new breakthrough medicines.

Importantly, just two years ago, when President Obama gave his first State of the Union address, he called for a cure for cancer in our lifetime. Our message to the President remains the same today as it was then: we're on it. In fact, bio-pharmaceutical research companies are currently researching more than 800 medicines and vaccines for cancer alone. But our work doesn't stop there. There are hundreds of medicines that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or are in the pipeline that could offer new hope for patients suffering from other chronic diseases such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS and Alzheimer's -- and they hold the key to controlling overall health care costs.

Studies show that innovative medicines can make it possible to prevent or slow the progress of many diseases and avoid costly hospitalization and invasive surgery. In fact, one study concluded that the use of blood pressure medicines prevents 86,000 premature deaths from cardiovascular disease and 833,000 hospitalizations for heart attack and stroke each year. And, in the five years following the introduction of active anti-retroviral therapy for patients living with HIV/AIDS, hospital rates fell by 32 percent even as survival rates and the number of people with the disease rose. What's more, since 1980, life expectancy for cancer patients has increased about three years, and 83 percent of those gains are attributable to new treatments and medicines.

But Are These Trends Sustainable?
Despite these impressive statistics, America's continued international leadership in this area is anything but guaranteed. The U.S. is at risk of losing its innovative edge. Countries such as China, India and the United Kingdom have set their sights on America's vibrant bio-pharmaceutical companies and want to lure their knowledge and high-value jobs abroad. In an era of intense global competition, our nation must push continuously to promote discovery and a healthy legislative and regulatory climate for bio-pharmaceutical innovation if we are to maintain and enhance our leadership.

Innovative new medicines and treatments don't just happen. Only one of every 10,000 potential medicines investigated by America's research-based bio-pharmaceutical companies make it through the R&D pipeline and to patients in need. FDA approval of just one medicine alone takes, on average, 15 years and costs more than $1 billion.

The bio-pharmaceutical research sector also supports roughly three million U.S. jobs -- from hard hats to lab coats. Those jobs sustain communities and contribute to local and state economies. The industry pumps billions of dollars into our nation's economy: the sector's direct contribution to GDP in 2006 was $88.5 billion -- triple the average contribution from sectors in the rest of the economy.

America's bio-pharmaceutical companies continue to play a vital role in supporting a robust economic recovery, achieving medical advancements and improving ways for patients to access the medicines they need to fight their diseases. But there is more that policymakers can do to ensure our nation's prosperity and help America's most vulnerable populations. This includes addressing challenges within our health care delivery and reimbursement systems, supporting a fully funded FDA and enacting intellectual property laws that protect and reward the ideas and innovations that are the lifeblood of innovative sectors such as ours.

Over the course of the year, we will reach out to policymakers and reiterate the message that we can grow stronger and more competitive as a nation if we continue to value and reward medical innovation. And, we will stress the importance of policies that encourage and protect American medical innovation and investment in jobs in order to help control health care costs and ensure the biopharmaceutical research industry remains a global leader and a driver of American prosperity and medical innovation.

John J. Castellani is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

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