Opinion: Colorado economy depends on drug innovation

By April Giles

Gov. John Hickenlooper recently highlighted the vital work of Colorados biopharmaceutical industry. Weve had over 3,000 clinical trials of new medicines since 1999, he said. They allow health care providers new opportunities to predict, pre-empt and prevent illness.

It was a timely reminder. Our state hosts more than 600 bioscience firms and employs over 122,000 Coloradoans in direct and indirect jobs. A new report by the Analysis Group titled Innovation in the Biopharmaceutical Pipeline: A Multidimensional View shows that thousands of promising new drugs are in development, but we need to ensure that these promising innovations arent stifled by political negotiations.

The report shows that currently biotech companies around the country have 5,400 new drugs in development. Seventy percent of those represent potential first-in-class medicines operating in a way distinct from those of any other drug currently available.

Some 1,800 of the drugs under development are aimed at treating rare diseases, many of which ahave had no new treatments approved in more than a decade. Indeed, there are 61 projects researching treatments for ALS, 28 new therapies being developed for cervical cancer and another 158 for ovarian cancer.

New technological breakthroughs are fueling this renaissance in drug innovation. At least 500 programs involve such cutting-edge scientific platforms as cell therapy and gene therapy. And more than 150 new drugs under development are in the new field of personalized medicine medications tailored to the genetic code of a specific patient or to specific individual characteristics.

The future of medicine promises to be bright. At last count, in Colorado alone, researchers were helping support 173 clinical trials involving 17 new asthma medications and another 281 trials relating to cancer treatments.

But the development of new drugs is not something we can afford to take for granted. In 2011, the pharmaceutical industry spent $49.5 billion on research and development. On average, including the costs of failures, drug companies spend $1.2 billion for every new drug the FDA approves, and it typically takes 10 to 15 years of laboratory testing before a drug makes it to market.

In order to keep drugs flowing through the pipeline, pharmaceutical companies need huge investments. Much of that money comes from revenues from sales on approved drugs.

Unfortunately, one proposal Congress is considering during budget negotiations centers on introducing a new financing scheme into Medicare Part D, which would hinder the research and development infrastructure for Colorados bioscience industry.

Right now, Medicare Part D participant choose prescription drug coverage from a menu of offerings from private insurance companies competing for business. The system works well. In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says the cost of Medicare Part D will come in 45 percent lower than the initial projections over the first decade of the programs existence.

The new financing mechanism being proposed in S. 740/H.R. 1588 would require pharmaceutical companies to pay a rebate to the government on every prescription sold to some Medicare recipients.

Changing the program in this manner will stifle medical innovation. According to PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the number of biotechnology and medical device companies receiving start-up funding is the lowest its been in 18 years. Colorados patients in desperate need of new treatment cannot afford bad policy that would stifle innovative research funding and venture capital.

Before drug companies are forced to scale back on research, we need to make sure our members of Congress understand the importance of medical breakthroughs and how to keep the pipeline flowing.

April Giles is the president of the Colorado Bioscience Association.

Opinions communicated in Solutions represent the view of individual authors, and may not reflect the position of the University of Colorado Denver or the University of Colorado system.