Democrats push for legislation that would slow drug creation


Note by opinion editor Amelia Robinson, this column appeared in the print edition of Columbus Dispatch on April 12.

After a gloomy pandemic winter, Ohio fully vaccinated some 1.9 million inhabitants against Covid-19. Already everyone in the state 16 is eligible to receive a shot.

Not bad, given that around this time last year, experts warned that vaccines could take years to become available. Instead, drugmakers Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson brought their vaccines to market in less than one.

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This record deployment was no accident.

This was the direct result of billions of dollars in private sector investment, coupled with US policies that encourage the invention of drugs. Thanks to our system, American biopharmaceutical companies currently have 4,500 drugs in development, including 260 vaccines, which The United States is the world leader in medical innovation.

Today, the industry is poised to produce even more life-saving cures, but only if lawmakers protect the policies that stimulate invention. Unfortunately, this is not taken for granted. Democrats in Congress are pushing for legislation that would undermine our leadership in biotechnology.

American scientists have developed the transformation technology known as messenger RNA, or mRNA, which is the basis of several leading Covid-19 vaccines. When a vaccine is administered, the mRNA instructs cells to produce a harmless version of the virus, which triggers a immune response to fight disease.

But we only saw the beginning of the potential of mRNA. The same underlying technology could give us vaccines and therapies for a a host of other diseases, including heart disease and cancer – the two leading causes of death Ohio and across the country. In 2021, cancer will demand the lives of some 25,000 Ohioans. We cannot reduce that number in the years to come if we prevent innovation.

Measures that would seriously slow down the creation of drugs abound.

One is the “Drugs Cost Reduction Now Act”, also known as HR 3. First introduced in 2019, this sweeping bill would impose foreign price controls on the United States – and is expected to be reintroduced in a matter of weeks. This move would make it nearly impossible for pharmaceutical companies to recoup their initial research costs – let alone invest in the development of new drugs – thus delaying the creation of many new treatments.

The Congress Budget Office estimates that in just the first decade after its adoption, HR 3 would bring 15 fewer new drugs to market. A different analysis found that this could result in 61 fewer new drugs over the next 10 years. Any of these could be a cure for cancer or heart disease, or a vaccine for the next pandemic.

Other lawmakers are calling for big changes to the laws and regulations that govern intellectual property rights. But these protections underpin the entire innovation ecosystem, generating income that companies must reinvest in research. Getting rid of them would stop American medical progress.

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With the US Congress closely divided, Republican Senator from Ohio Rob Portman has a key role to play in protecting intellectual property rights responsible for so many breakthroughs. His two-party record puts him in a position to help influence his fellow Democrats and cooperate to protect a system that has saved untold lives.

A future of made in America medical breakthroughs is within reach. But that can’t happen if we destroy pharmaceutical innovation through bad policy choices.

Scott Pullins is the founder of the Ohio Taxpayers Association, a nonprofit organization whose mission statement includes work to limit state and local taxes and spending.

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