Why policy matters in stopping epidemics and climate change

January 28, 2020
We're running close to 5 minutes today (980 words), but we promise it's a good one. First, we're taking a look at what the U.S. biotech industry is doing to find a vaccine or treatment for the Wuhan coronavirus. Then, we've got the details on a court case that brings…
We're running close to 5 minutes today (980 words), but we promise it's a good one.

First, we're taking a look at what the U.S. biotech industry is doing to find a vaccine or treatment for the Wuhan coronavirus. Then, we've got the details on a court case that brings us one step closer to more certainty for the biofuels industry.

Why do these stories matter right now? Because when it comes to the scary things that keep us up at night, like the potential for a global epidemic or climate catastrophe, biotech can provide real solutions—but we have to ensure policy supports this innovation. Let's take a closer look.

Keep calm and carry on with cures

The Wuhan coronavirus continues to spread rapidly. While U.S. health officials say we shouldn’t panic yet, there’s much we don’t know about the novel respiratory virus. 

Luckily, the biotech industry is rapidly ramping up efforts to study the virus and find vaccines and cures before we have a global epidemic. 

What we know: At this writing, there are more than 4,500 confirmed cases worldwide, including five in the United States with around 110 people currently being watched in 26 states—and numbers are climbing with 100 dead in Wuhan, China, where the virus originated. 

What we don’t know: It’s still unclear exactly how the virus is transmitted or the severity, but experts say don’t panic—because the Wuhan coronavirus mortality rate will likely be much lower than the 10% mortality rate we saw during the SARS outbreak of 2002-2003.

You're in good hands, because the U.S. biotech industry is leading the global race for vaccines and cures—including many BIO members:

What they’re saying: “While [NIH will] run the phase 1 study, we will need to immediately start planning for the next phase of this program, which actually requires a substantial scale-up of the amount of manufacturing so the vaccine could potentially be available if the pandemic spreads out of control,” Moderna President Dr. Stephen Hoge told CNBC.

Wow, sounds like it would require a lot of money. Yes—and that's exactly why we can’t enact price controls that would stymie the pharmaceutical innovation pipeline and make it harder for companies to invest in new cures and step up during health crises.

Phyllis’s Philosophy: “Our industry is hard at work in search of new treatments and vaccines to stop the spread of this devastating disease. This outbreak is an important reminder of why we need a policy environment that supports private sector investment into the development of lifesaving innovations through collaborative public-private partnerships—especially if we want to be prepared for the next public health emergency.” – Phyllis Arthur, BIO’s VP of Infectious Diseases and Diagnostics Policy


More Health Care News: 

Bloomberg: Bloomberg seeks to limit drug patent protection to reduce costs
Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg has a plan to limit “new brand-name drugs to a single patent to get lower-priced generics to the market faster.” 

Life Sci VC: Whither new biotech startups?
“The number of new biotech startups announcing their first rounds of funding has dropped each quarter since beginning of 2019, down nearly 50% from a year ago, to what may be the lowest number in five years.” This could be due to “changing sentiment in the long-range prospects of biotech in light of the drug pricing debate and general anti-biopharma political punditry.”

The Hill: House Democrats to spend $1M on ads targeting GOP on drug pricing
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) will launch 30-second digital and television ads saying House Republicans and Sen. Maj. Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) “are standing in the way of Congress passing legislation aimed at lowering drug prices.”


Big news for biofuels

An appeals court says the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must reconsider three recent waivers to the biofuels requirements, reports Reuters—setting the stage for the industry to get the certainty it needs to continue to grow.

ICYMI: Trump’s EPA has granted an unprecedented number of Small Refinery Exemptions (SREs) to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which requires a certain percentage of biofuels in transportation fuel in the United States.

The RFS provides certainty to the biofuels industry—and the exemptions last year in particular severely undercut biofuel demand and prices, leading many biofuel facilities across America to stop production or shut down entirely. 

So, a coalition of renewable fuels producers took the EPA to court—and last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled the EPA “overstepped its authority to grant” three of the 2016 Small Refinery Exemptions (SREs), because the particular refineries “had not received exemptions in the previous year,” explains Reuters.

So, what’s next? The court said post-2010 exemptions must take the form of an “extension,” so the EPA must reconsider the exemptions “consistent with this opinion.”

Why it matters: The UN recently said the right energy mix—including renewable fuel—is one of the biggest factors in stopping climate change. Exemptions to the Renewable Fuel Standard, however, make it difficult for the industry to grow and meet the growing demand for biofuels in America. This is why we’re promoting low-carbon fuel initiatives, which not only help clean up carbon emissions but also support rural economies and jobs. 

Stephanie’s Sage Words: “Hopefully, the EPA reverses course on these small refinery waivers after this court ruling. Unfortunately, this is a small piece of a larger puzzle that has plagued the Renewable Fuel Standard. BIO will continue to advocate to uphold the integrity of the RFS, but we’re also pushing for states to adopt policies that drive the adoption of sustainable fuels as we’ve seen federal policy continue to be undermined by the EPA.” – Stephanie Batchelor, BIO’s VP of Industrial & Environment Section

BIO Beltway Report

President Trump’s Tuesday: Meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, then heading to a campaign rally in Wildwood, New Jersey. His job approval rating is holding steady, says Lunchtime Politics.

What’s Happening on Capitol Hill: The House and Senate are in session. The impeachment trial continues, with Trump’s lawyers expected to wrap up their arguments today.

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