Opinion: Build Back Better’s punitive stances will hinder medical innovation

The U.S. Capitol Building. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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The U.S. Capitol Building. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Leaders in Washington must be forward-thinking on pandemic preparedness

When the history of the coronavirus pandemic is written, one fact will stand out: the scientific community and pharmaceutical manufacturers delivered for us. Against all odds, we had access to COVID-19 inoculations in record time (two based on cutting-edge messenger RNA technology that holds promise for other diseases like cancer). What often gets lost in the debate are the decades of research and financial investments by drug manufacturers and the federal government that went into this remarkable achievement.

Strategic investments in pandemic preparedness like the mRNA technology are bipartisan and commonsense. As recent history has shown, getting ahead of a pandemic like COVID-19 can not only save trillions in new spending but also mitigate the loss of life, jobs and economic strength we have experienced because we didn’t have a vaccine. Furthermore, as recent polling suggests, there is strong public support for preventing pandemics.

Unfortunately, Democratic leaders have yet to prioritize such efforts.

Instead, President Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer are focused on passing the Build Back Better Act. The legislation includes price controls on a range of popular medicines covered by Medicare that will inevitably lead to reductions in drug development budgets at large biopharma companies, make it hard for small companies to innovate, and negatively impact key areas of drug development. If that wasn’t enough, earlier this year they proposed giving away the intellectual property rights of COVID-19 vaccine developers to foreign nations.

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04/05/2019 -- Newnan, Georgia -- Georgia U.S. Congressmen A. Drew Ferguson (left) and Barry Loudermilk (center) speaks amongst themselves as they stand at the entrance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Detector Dog Training Facility in Newnan, Friday, April 5, 2019. The congressmen were touring the facility with United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

04/05/2019 -- Newnan, Georgia -- Georgia  U.S. Congressmen A. Drew Ferguson (left) and Barry Loudermilk (center) speaks amongst themselves as they stand at the entrance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Detector Dog Training Facility in Newnan, Friday, April 5, 2019. The congressmen were touring the facility with United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

caption arrowCaption
04/05/2019 -- Newnan, Georgia -- Georgia U.S. Congressmen A. Drew Ferguson (left) and Barry Loudermilk (center) speaks amongst themselves as they stand at the entrance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Detector Dog Training Facility in Newnan, Friday, April 5, 2019. The congressmen were touring the facility with United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

These actions not only ignore the issues we should be focused on but also the importance of investing in strategic relationships with key industries like textile manufacturers here in Georgia to make personal protective equipment or drug manufacturers making new drugs to continue their efforts against COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

I steadfastly believe that changes are needed to help make drug costs more affordable for seniors, but they are not mutually exclusive with the U.S. response to COVID-19 and future pandemics. Thankfully such reforms exist. but they are not a priority of this administration. Our nation must set its sights higher. A smart, forward-thinking strategy is required that identifies critical preparedness priorities like new drug development and invests in them wisely to ensure a positive return for taxpayers. Rather than making it harder to work with the United States, improving our strategic partnerships with key industries is vital for our success.

One top priority should be to prevent the loss of antibiotics used to treat infections in patients. Legislation I developed alongside Senators Michael Bennet, and Todd Young, and Representative Mike Doyle, the Pioneering Antimicrobial Subscriptions to End Upsurging Resistance (PASTEUR) Act, would achieve this goal by establishing a federal investment strategy to encourage the development of new and innovative antibiotics while ensuring a tangible return on that investment for taxpayers.

We also need the life-sciences sector to develop new cures and treatments for diseases like cancer, Alzheimers and Parkinson’s disease with the same urgency as COVID-19. Modern innovation affords us exciting opportunities to better address underlying conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and asthma, which disproportionately affects people of color and have worsened the impact of this pandemic on these communities.

Without question, it will take the full force of medical science to address COVID-19 and other diseases of the future. The drug-pricing proposal in the Democrats’ Build Back Better plan, however, would set back medical science and drug development just when we’re poised for more life-saving breakthroughs. It would be a shame for some in Congress to squander this opportunity for us all.

All too often in D.C., old dogs won’t learn new tricks. It’s time for Congress and the executive branch to be more thoughtful in defining the current problem, the root causes of those issues, and develop modern solutions and processes that are forward thinking. These current proposals aren’t forward thinking; rather, they are punitive in nature. Punitive measures may change behavior, but they will greatly restrict innovation and our fight against pandemics in the long run.

U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-West Point, represents Georgia’s 3rd Congressional District.

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