Writing for the Boston Globe, Dr. Michael Rosenblatt, chief medical officer of the venture firm Flagship Pioneering, debunks the common myth that biopharmaceutical companies are “free-riding” on government research.
Policymakers in Washington have long preferred to believe that scientists and researchers funded by federal taxpayer dollars discover medicines on their own, and that innovative biotech’s simply take advantage of this work and profit as result. But “nothing could be further from the truth,” Rosenblatt explains.
“The government funds important, basic research that expands scientific knowledge and helps lay the foundation for targeted or applied research. This early work is essential, but it’s only the beginning of a long, arduous, and highly risky process that is the domain of private-sector companies. …
“If a promising biological target is identified, a life-sciences company — either a small start-up or a pharmaceutical company — will begin exploring how to translate the research into a medically useful invention. Biotech startups typically raise funds from venture capital investors or public markets in order to support this research. Large pharmaceutical companies fund the research out of current revenues (typically about 15 percent),” Rosenblatt adds.
Congress enacted the Bayh-Dole Act in 1980 to help strengthen public-private collaboration in drug discovery. Since the law was enacted, these partnerships have helped bring more than 200 new drugs and vaccines to the market. But as Rosenblatt warns, “Some lawmakers want to regress to the era before Bayh-Dole. They believe the government should own the patents that result from federally funded research — or, at least set prices on the medicines that are eventually developed.” He continues:
“That’s not smart. Such a shift would dramatically inhibit the scientific exchange between those who do basic research and those who explore clinical applications.”
As we consider the tremendous health challenges facing countless patients, continuing this strong public-private partnership will benefit patients and society for years to come. As Dr. Rosenblatt concludes, “Only a strong biopharmaceutical industry has the know-how, expertise, resources — and the financial incentives — to move from new knowledge to the medical inventions we so desperately need.”
Read the full op-ed in the Boston Globe here.