Oregon’s pioneering in cancer drug research needs protection (Opinion)

As a biotech leader in Oregon, I appreciate hearing positive stories of how patients such as Janet Thompson of Portland didn’t meekly accept her doctor’s diagnosis of advanced lung cancer, as reported by Lynne Terry of The Oregonian/OregonLive (“Breakthrough lung cancer drug helps clinical trial patient at Providence,” March 6). Thompson fought back, undergoing radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery. But nothing worked.

With a prognosis of just months left to live, Thompson resolved to try one more option — an experimental drug offered in a clinical trial at Portland’s Providence Cancer Center. The medicine diminished Thompson’s tumor astonishingly fast. She went on to enjoy her retirement and to spend time with her grandchildren.

In his 2016 State of the Union address, President Obama announced the new “Moonshot” initiative to eliminate cancer as we know it. That’s a hopeful message from the president and medical researchers around the world. Everyone agrees that the value of innovation and research has never been higher.

While some want to debate the cost issue of new pharmaceuticals, however, what is often missed is the cost to society of people stricken with illnesses or who endure chronic conditions. These “sick care” costs burden all of us, in increased hospitalizations, high utilization of health services and missed or decreased work, harming families and in some instances leading to premature death.

The good news is Thompson’s situation isn’t unique. Patients across Oregon and America are enjoying a new lease on life thanks to promising new treatments developed here in Oregon. Unfortunately, policymakers in Washington, D.C., are contemplating changes to Medicare that could jeopardize medical research. If they get their way, both patients and the Oregon economy could suffer.

In Oregon, we are deeply committed to pharmaceutical research and development. More than 6,400 clinical trials take place here as Oregon’s scientists and researchers seek new treatments for cancer, heart disease, asthma, diabetes, mental illness and more, in collaboration with many organizations.

Such research obviously benefits patients. But it helps Oregon workers prosper, as well. In 2013 alone, biopharmaceutical companies invested an estimated $107.5 million in clinical trials across Oregon, offering hope to over tens of thousands of patients.

In addition to directly employing more than 17,874 high paying jobs and totaling $1.3 billion in wages, Oregon’s burgeoning bioscience and pharmaceutical industry also supports local businesses in a multiplier effect, deepening the economic benefits statewide.

So why are some in Washington, D.C. promoting policies that will make successful new treatments harder to come by?

Take, for instance, plans to slash reimbursements for many physicians participating in Medicare Part B, a program providing coverage for hospital- and clinic-administered drugs, including cancer and arthritis treatments. The proposal would require doctors who administer the newest and most advanced treatments to assume huge financial risks — even if one of these cutting-edge medicines invented in an Oregon laboratory is more likely to be effective for a patient.

Similarly, lawmakers are considering giving federal bureaucrats the authority to “negotiate” prices for prescription drugs covered under Medicare’s Part D drug plans. Existing negotiations are one reason for Part D’s outstanding performance, which shows the program’s drug costs are nearly 50 percent below projections. But “negotiation” really means potentially threatening to withhold medicines from patients who need them, in effect using those patients as a bargaining chip.

That will limit patient access to new, life-saving drugs and create a massive disincentive for pharmaceutical research and development.

Oregon can’t afford such counterproductive policies. They undermine a dynamic sector of the state’s economy. But more importantly, they unnecessarily stagnate medical research and development, leaving the next cancer patient with fewer options offering hope.

Ralph Makar, R.Ph., M.B.A., is a life sciences industry executive and advisor who serves on the board of the Oregon Bioscience Association.


Ralph Makar
August 25, 2016
Oregon Live

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