Can Biotech Sustain the Changes of the Last Year?

The COVID pandemic has changed the biotech industry in a positive way, demonstrating it can act quickly and decisively to develop vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“We have seen the transformative power of science,” said Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath, PhD, president and CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO).

She, and other speakers presenting in advance of last week’s virtual Biotech Showcase, predicted the impact of the pandemic on the industry will be long-lasting.

An account of the presentation on The Science Advisory Board website pointed to the “massive pivot of biotechnology companies to pursue infectious disease research.” Though not all the companies will achieve funding or success, McMurry-Heath said the pandemic created opportunities to pursue new classes of therapeutics and novel areas of research.

“If companies are innovative and are willing to reinvent their science, there is hope for even more transformative solutions in the future,” the article says.

However, sustaining the transformation and the speed of biotech innovation is challenged by efforts to control healthcare costs, said speakers at a second advance session of the Biotech Showcase.

“Prescription drug prices in the U.S. continually rank among the highest in the world, and it’s no secret that the biotech industry relies heavily on the U.S. market to fund research and development,” the article about the session reports.

The panel of speakers agreed the goal of the federal government and the pharmaceutical industry should be to make innovative, but affordable drugs. Complicating that is the business model. “With high R&D costs, companies (and investors) must have a way to recoup costs, years after the product goes to market,” the article explains.

There are some alternatives, said Dr. Julie Gerberding, Merck EVP and chief patient officer and former head of the CDC. She cited the Department of Defense model, which is built on a public-private partnership incentivizing productivity and innovation. Another is the way the Department of Health and Human Services partnered with the private sector to combat COVID-19.

“With future pandemics a near certainty,” the article reported, “it seems critical that the government should invest more innovation to help avoid or mitigate anticipated crises, [Gerberding] believes.”

“We are all part of the problem and the solution,” Gerberding said. “We have to apply ourselves to find contemporary solutions. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Photo by National Cancer Institute

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