This is our next existential moment
“No matter how good the science is and no matter how good the business acumen of the entrepreneur is, if the public policy environment is not conducive, a biotech company cannot succeed”, tells Jim Greenwood, a wise man with a life filled with chapters. Family man, bird lover, former American politician in the Republican Party for 24 years. For 14 years, he has been the President and CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) in Washington D.C., representing more than 1,200 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations across the United States and in more than 30 other nations.
The public has always had a love-hate relationship with biopharmaceutical companies, dating back to the late 1800s. But even in the current public debate on drug pricing, Jim is committed to change the conversation on price to a conversation about value and about the problem of patient out-of-pocket costs. “We are in a race now between the science and the policy makers who put pressure on drug pricing. I believe that science will get us to a place, where it delivers unquestionable value for patients and for their loved ones. We can’t let bad public policy get in the way of the incredible promise of tomorrow’s breakthroughs. Patients with incurable diseases are counting on us, and we won’t let them down.”
The Pharma Balancing Act
Unpacking the biopharmaceutical industry is not an easy task. It costs a lot of money to develop basic science; it costs even more to get it out of the lab. The small SMEs created to bring new drugs to market are counting on the large pharmaceutical companies to work with, or even acquire them down the road, in order to pay back investors who put huge upfront amounts into their businesses at risky stages; and the big pharmaceutical companies need to charge for the drugs they create to stay afloat. The value exchange in the system all sounds well and good until you hear stories of individuals not being able to live disease-free simply because the co-pays and co-insurance they must pay for their drugs are too expensive, or stories of orphan drugs being ignored by investors, as the business plan simply doesn’t add up.
Jim is optimistic about the industry, though. He believes that the science itself will de-risk the enterprise, by reducing the time to market – and hence the cost of development – and ultimately reduce prices. “We are getting better in science, so our failure rates will go down. And if our failures rates go down, then the risk will decrease and the return on investment will increase”, Jim explains.
Open, Innovative Policy is Key
In Jim’s eyes, this can only happen if policy makers keep up with the pace of innovation in the sector: “I think the pace of the science is really accelerating. I don’t think we are far from using stem cells to repair and replace injured and diseased tissue and to repair spinal cord injuries. The contest is between how fast we can advance the science, and how fast politicians will realize the value of our innovations.” He believes they are thinking too short-term to really make huge moves forward in the world of health, and are risking the increased success which would come from increased investment.
The other side of story, of course, is that policy makers are prioritizing lowering list costs in order to improve patient access. What they should be focused on is why insurers (including the Medicare prescription drug program require such unaffordable deductibles that make it difficult for people to access the medicines they need. If policy makers take a more ‘pro-patient approach, patients will be able to afford their drugs and that will reduce costs of hospitalization. Too often politicians focus more on vilifying pharmaceutical than on actually solving problems.
Reframing the Conversation
For Jim, it’s not just the issue of public policy but also of public engagement: “We have to be really creative about how we tell the world about our success… When do people interact with our industry? When they become ill and are going to pay for it. They interact when they read a story about outrageous pricing. They interact when they watch a TV ad, and sometimes are our own worst enemy, because it looks like we are spending all of our money on advertising. We have to do a better job at somehow: it’s one thing to say, my cholesterol is down, but the message shouldn’t be about the cholesterol countdown. It should be about grandma’s is not going to have a heart attack.”
Jim also believes that the public aren’t well informed about the true cost of drugs, the coverage they can get, and the perils of putting limits on the corporations operating in the health space.
“I feel this is our next existential moment. We are poised to more effectively than ever before save lives, cure disease, increase access and minimize cost. The question, of course, is what the investment in the future costs those currently living. “For the patient, ultimately, what matters is what comes out of his or her pocket. This is a moral issue. No one should ever be denied a medicine because they can’t afford to pay the deductible or co-insurance. If we focus on the patients’ costs, we can solve the access problem”, concludes Jim.
”We are ready to do something that has never been done before: save lives, cure disease, increase access and minimize cost." - James C. Greenwood, President Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO)