Tue, Nov 23, 2021 6:14 AM
By Amina Zeghar Campbell, The Center Square
When Covid-19 first hit, Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, warned that development of a vaccine would take at least a year and a half. His timeline was derided by many scientists as "ridiculously optimistic."
There were good reasons for skepticism. The fastest any vaccine had ever previously been developed was in four years. And several of the vaccines in trials were based on new technology, messenger RNA.
Yet in less than a year, the United States would deploy multiple Covid-19 vaccines, and bring the end of the pandemic within sight.
This is one of the most impressive scientific achievements in history – and it demonstrates the critical role research companies play in fighting threats to mankind.
In America, especially, scientists and researchers are backed by hundreds of billions in private capital – and can draw from the best universities in the world. Thus it is here that so much of the world's cutting-edge research takes place. Indeed, American research companies develop two in every three new medicines.
So when the novel coronavirus was discovered, virtually every biopharmaceutical company began working around the clock to develop new vaccines and therapeutics. The government helped accelerate the process, of course, thanks to advance purchase commitments and the like. But it was mainly the private sector that identified ways to produce hundreds of millions of doses at an unprecedented rate.
Today, thanks to these efforts, nearly 70% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.
Imagine if we had had to wait another year -- or even two -- for a Covid shot. The Commonwealth Fund estimates that without the U.S. vaccination program, an additional 279,000 people would have died, and an additional 1.25 million been hospitalized, by July of this year. And of course, the economic devastation of another full-fledged lockdown would have been insurmountable.
Yet we would have faced more lockdowns, hospitalizations, and deaths if we didn't have a research industry ready to take on Covid-19.
Unfortunately, many leading Democrats are pushing for massive changes to the prescription drug market that would threaten the ecosystem that made these vaccines possible.
Indeed, the new spending bill that's making its way through Congress would extend price controls to dozens of branded medicines.
While well-intentioned -- trips to the pharmacy have become too expensive -- the effect this could have on patients and medical research deeply worries me.
On average, it costs about $3 billion in private investment to bring a single new medication all the way from initial laboratory research to final regulatory approval. If price controls are adopted in the United States, research companies and their backers would quickly shut down research projects – as they wouldn't even have a chance of recouping their upfront investment costs or earning a return. This would mean fewer new lifesaving medicines.
Indeed, an August report from Congressional Budget Office found that H.R. 3 -- a similar price control scheme -- would reduce the number of new drugs coming to market by as many as 59 in the next three decades. A report from a University of Chicago economist had a far more dire prediction, estimating that over the next 20 years, the bill could kill the development of up to 342 new drugs.
Slamming the breaks on biotech research would also degrade the quality of our labs and the skills of our workforce. Consider the impact this would have when the next pandemic rolls around. Whipping up a new vaccine is not a simple matter of signing an executive order or passing a law.
Rather than impose drug price controls that punish inventors and their backers, our Congressional leaders should preserve the ecosystem that has so successfully encouraged innovation to date. It has saved countless lives during this pandemic, and will serve us well amid public health crises to come.