Guest Opinion: Medical technology has a champion in Washington

By Mark VonHolle, Mail Tribune

For a growing business that chose to locate manufacturing operations in Oregon such as our company, Lighthouse Worldwide Solutions, partnerships and linkages are crucial to growing our opportunities. Innovative collaborators are particularly important in the biotechnology industry.

Oregon’s biotech and life science industry just released a new economic impact summary showing significant and steady growth in the innovation economy, and we see the growth ahead.

At Lighthouse, we are focused upon providing comprehensive environmental monitoring solutions for biotech, as well as every other industry that manufacturers and operates in sterile (cleanroom) environments. The rapid advancements in the biotech sector are indicators of a medical revolution, and our geography can do so much to encourage this growth.

In Southern and Eastern Oregon, jobs in the private bioscience sector such as biotech, medical device manufacturing, medical equipment and technologies and diagnostics are also increasing. In the most recent state data, 154 firms or companies provide nearly 1,900 jobs with wages totaling $105.4 million.

Southern and Eastern Oregon’s share of the bio innovation economy totals about 20 percent of the total impact of private bioscience in Oregon. Statewide, the direct impact of bio totals 793 private firms, 17,874 jobs and a cumulative $10.3 billion annual footprint in our economy. We have an excellent opportunity to strengthen the breadth of family-wage jobs to create more sustainable streams of tax revenue without creating new taxes or increasing existing taxes.

Oregon Congressman Greg Walden is working on legislation that directly supports advancements in medical technologies, like he did on his work with the 21st Century Cures Act, a bill seeking to speed up the approval process for prescription medications and medical devices. Walden’s efforts to implement policies that spur medical discovery will help current and future patients — not to mention the thousands of Oregon workers who research and manufacture critically needed medicines and diagnostic technologies.

It’s easy to see why Walden has made pro-innovation policies such a priority. He lost his mother to ovarian cancer, his son to a congenital heart defect, his stepmother to a stroke — and his sister-in-law had brain cancer.

So, in his own words, making sure that American companies can continue “investing in cures, investing in treatment, investing in innovation” is personally important.

Walden’s accomplishments aren’t limited to the Cures bill. In 2014, he chaired a hearing focused on the potential that cloud computing holds for medical research advancement. Walden also co-sponsored the Protect Medical Innovation Act, which passed the House last year.

He has worked to smooth the road for drug approvals in a process that should be a model for other policymakers. Bringing a single drug to market is expensive — $2.6 billion, according to Tufts University — and takes 10 to 12 years. Only one in eight drugs that enters human testing goes on to gain FDA approval.

Thanks to a currently favorable regulatory environment, the United States leads the world in medical research, with more than 500 new drugs created since 2000. In 2015, the FDA approved 45 new drugs; 21 of which treat rare diseases that had few or no previous treatments.

This progress can’t be taken for granted.

Patients and bio-workers alike need drug approval and medical device processes that reduce the time and costs of bringing a drug or device to market, an environment in which the approval process is scientifically sound and efficient, and more open communications between medical manufacturers and the insurance companies which pay for the drugs or devices, so that each can be more appropriately priced. And even though political leaders and even a presidential candidate want to enact price controls on prescription medications, we must spurn such actions that ultimately will stifle innovation and investments.

And above all, patients and workers need more policymakers such as Walden — leaders who understand the importance promoting innovation-friendly policies in Oregon and across the country.

Mark VonHolle is marketing manager for Lighthouse Worldwide Solutions and a longtime community leader and tech sector growth advocate.

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