Enhancing America’s Competitive Edge

The outlook may appear grim for the U.S. biotechnology industry. With the share of venture capital for biotech plummeting eight percent from 2009 to 2010 and overall investment in the life sciences declining $2 billion from 2008-2010, it looks like investment in the industry has yet to fully recover from the economic recession.

In addition, the decrease in funding is coming at a time of increased global competition. Europe, China and India are all enticing companies to take their research and development enterprises abroad.

While the U.S. leads in the area of biotechnology, there is no guarantee this competitive edge will continue.  Although the U.S. is more prolific in life science discoveries than any other single country in the world, there is a sense that many of these discoveries will not make it to the marketplace. Experts believe it is through commercialization of these early stage discoveries, that the U.S. will be able to jump-start job creation.

At BIO’s Technology Transfer Symposium, a panel of experts asked explored ways that we can leverage our strengths to enhance our competitive edge in the life sciences and jump-start the U.S. economy. Two of the primary issues discussed during the panel were the U.S. regulatory environment and funding – which often go hand-in-hand.

Earlier this month, President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness released a report that stated: “Investment in the life sciences area is declining at an alarming rate because of the escalating cost, time, and risk of developing new drugs and devices. While many factors have contributed to this decline … an important factor is the uncertain FDA [Food and Drug Administration] regulatory environment.”

“The risk-benefit pendulum has swung way over to the side of safety,” Gail Maderis, president and CEO of BayBio, explained. “In fact, if aspirin were to go through the FDA today, it is impossible that it would be approved because of its safety profile.”

To address these issues, BIO included provisions for improving the FDA in Unleashing the Promise of Biotechnology – a strategic initiative that would help grow the bioeconomy and speed life-saving treatments to patients sooner than the current pace. Further, BIO's plan suggests reforms to encourage private investment in fields of biotechnology that are critical not only to our health - but, also to our economic health to help the U.S. biotech industry compete on a level playing field against China and India – and defend our nation’s leading position in biotech innovation while keeping high-paying jobs here at home.

Panelists in the session stated that much of what can be done to stay competitive can be accomplished on a local level.

“Real innovation seems to be getting hyper-localized,” Doug Crawford, associate director of QB3, said. Companies are moving to where innovation is happening, like QB3’s Mission Bay, so that they are footsteps, not miles, away from the action.

And these technology hubs are starting to get the support they need from their state and regional governments.

Peter Pellerito, interim vice president of state government relations and alliance development at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, contributed by explaining how state governors are generally supportive in the creation of technology hubs. “Let’s all work together with them.”

Combining reforms at the federal level with support for innovation at the local level might just provide the spark the biotech industry and the U.S. economy need.