This week Science Life is reporting from the 20th BIO International Convention, an annual gathering of biotech industry leaders, from pharmaceutical companies and insurance providers to technology firms and university researchers.
Austerity vs. Growth: Will the Life Sciences Be the Next European Bailout?
Today’s big theme was how government can influence bioscience research, both positively and negatively, though economic policy. One of the most pressing concerns is how the current trend toward deficit reduction and austerity will affect funding for basic science research. Kenneth Polonsky, MD, our Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the Biological Sciences Division and Pritzker School of Medicine, has written about the impact of sequestration cuts in the US, and this panel discussed how austerity measures in Europe are being felt throughout the world of biomedicine, specifically the pharmaceutical industry, where drug companies make easy political targets for finance ministers trying to trim spending.
David Talbot, director of international government affairs at Eli Lilly, seemed optimistic however. “There is an opportunity here to come out of these next 3 to 5 years with a much better path for growth,” he said, once the industry adjusts to this new reality.
He and Øyvind Brekke, senior advisor for international healthcare at Norwegian bank DNB, and Didier Malherbe, vice president of public affairs at Belgian biopharma company UCB, talked about how austerity measures in the EU will force pharma companies to show more evidence of how new medications will actually add value to the market by improving patient lives. While Talbot noted that this could add to the already considerable cost of bringing a drug to market, and Brekke noted the lack of sophisticated measures of this value, all three agreed that this focus will lead to more efficient research spending.Bioscience Economic Development and Legislative Best Practices
As you can see from the photos on this post, many states and research and development agencies are represented here, trying to present themselves as attractive places in which bioscience companies can invest. Today’s big press event featured Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon in a session talking about how state-sponsored programs can encourage investment in the bioscience industry and support bioscience companies in leveraging existing resources.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn was unable to attend because he was downstate surveying flood damage in Peoria. His chief of staff, Jack Lavin, appeared in his stead, and spoke about a recent Ernst and Young report that ranked Illinois as the fourth-largetst biotech sector in the US, creating more than $100 billion in economic impact in 2011. Jim Greenwood, president and CEO of the BIO Convention, announced a new BIO report on state legislative best practices in bioscience economic development, and Perry, Corbett and Nixon each spoke about how they encouraged biotech partnerships in their states. It was an interesting counterpoint to see this collection of governors talking about government investment in the US following the previous session on the tough reality of budget cuts in Europe.
Public-Private Partnerships as a Driver of Global Vaccine Innovation and Development
A third panel today offered a different take on how private industry can partner with government and non-governmental organizations to develop vaccines for infectious diseases like malaria and tuberculosis that still ravage large parts of the world. Hannah Kettler from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pointed out that in developing countries 1,500 people die every hour from infectious diseases, thus faster development and distribution of more effective vaccines is an urgent global health issue. However, investing in such vaccines isn’t always an attractive value proposition for pharmaceutical manufacturers—organizations like the Gates Foundation can fill the void by helping them mitigate risks and sharing costs of R&D.
Kenneth Kelly, CEO of a small biotech company called Paxvax offered an interesting perspective on this approach. His company started as a nonprofit in 2007 in response to the H5N1 bird flu virus, and has moved on to work on vaccines for cholera, influenza, HIV and anthrax. In the case of cholera, he spoke about how the company is working on two different versions of the vaccine that could subsidize each other in terms of overall cost and the social impact of lives saved. There is no cholera vaccine available in the US; it’s a disease largely limited to the developing world, and vaccines are reserved for those areas. However, they are working on a “traveler’s vaccine” in the United States for people traveling to those areas that could generate higher revenues and subsidize better vaccines for the developing world. It’s a way of addressing that gap between business value and social impact that Kettler and the rest of the panelists discussed.
That’s it for day 2 of our coverage from BIO International. Check back tomorrow for more updates, including a session on rare diseases with our own Comer Children’s Hospital.
More BIO International 2013 coverage from Science Life: