Fareed Zakaria: Encourage Scientific Research in America

Fareed Zakaria: Encourage Scientific Research in America

06.21.12 | By Kate Connors

Fareed ZakariaFareed Zakaria's op-ed in today's Washington Post about the importance of federal funding support for science research - including the field of biopharmaceuticals - really hit home (also read my coverage of Zakaria's speech at last year's annual meeting).

From our standpoint at PhRMA, we talk (nonstop, it might seem) about the work that biopharmaceutical companies do as part of the research ecosystem. We talk about how we need sound policies to allow this innovation to happen, and we talk about the importance of bringing the fruits of this innovation to America's patients - especially those without adequate treatment options.

But Zakaria makes an important point - that we cannot lose sight of the importance of the other members of the research ecosystem, including government-funded research.

He writes: "As we confront difficulties across the economic landscape, the one area where the United States can still move from strength to strength is science and technology - if we make the right decisions."

Unfortunately, he adds, federal support for science research is dropping, especially in comparison with other countries, where support continues to grow.

What does this mean for biopharmaceutical companies? PhRMA member companies last year spent $49.5 billion on the discovery and development of new medicines, and some of this investment was spent developing breakthroughs that may have originated with government researchers. As collaborative members of the ecosystem, we work together to bring new therapies to patients.

And the effect of federal support for science is larger than the products that result, Zakaria says. It's also economic: "Take, for instance, the decision to map the human genome. The federal government funded that project at a whipping $3.8 billion cost, over a 15-year period. But consider the payback. One study - funded by the industry - calculates that the Human Genome Project has helped drive $796 billion in economic activity and raised $244 billion in personal income; it supported 310,000 jobs in 2010 alone."

And many of those jobs are with biopharmaceutical companies, which are using the information gleaned from the project to develop targeted therapies for diseases like cancer and hepatitis.

Zakaria closes by pointing out that beyond funding of government research, there's still more that can be done to encourage innovative work; policies like the Prescription Drug User Fee Act are a great example.

It's a very worthwhile read, but from my vantage point, it's just the beginning of the story.

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