When President Donald Trump urged the biopharmaceutical industry to reduce the price of new medicines and to increase its manufacturing in the United States, many took it as a threat.
We believe it’s a call to action. America’s ingenuity in biomedical research is unsurpassed. However, our country is losing out to other nations in the fastest growing biotechnology sector, called regenerative medicine: harnessing the capacity of our cells to repair and restore health and sustain well-being.
Second place is not an option. The regenerative medicine market is growing about 21 percent a year and is expected to be worth over $350 billion by 2050. Today, the U.S. regenerative medicine sector is generating $3.6 billion in revenues and has produced 14,000 jobs. By 2050, the industry could create nearly a million new jobs nationwide.
Regenerative medicine will also reduce the cost of disease. Such therapies will replace drugs, devices, and surgery, saving lives, increasing productivity, and reducing the cost of care. This transformation will add trillions in value to our economy.
Finally, regenerative medicine will also make America more secure. Our nation still lacks the ability to quickly and cheaply mass produce vaccines, antidotes, and cell therapies to counter pandemics and bioterrorism. Our fighting forces need reliable sources of these countermeasures and deserve immediate access to treatments that give them back their lives. We shouldn’t outsource the safety and well-being of our nation and our Armed Forces to other countries.
To regain leadership in regenerative medicine, U.S. firms don’t need government loans, tax credits or massive de-regulation. Instead, it needs the opportunity to invest in reducing the time and cost of manufacturing cellular therapies. To the extent that regenerative medicine is curative it must be made available at vaccine like prices. At present, only a handful of people can afford such treatments.
China and Japan are now in forefront of reducing the cost of producing stem cells, tissue, and other products with restorative biological properties. As a result, they are attracting more capital and forming more new companies than the U.S.
In 2014 Japan became the first country in the world to adopt an expedited approval system specifically for regenerative medical products and to allow outsourced cell culturing. Two products were approved under the new system within a year of its adoption.
By contrast, the Food and Drug Administration regulates any use of manufactured stem cells as equally risky without regard to prior use, health benefit, or therapeutic potential. Indeed, many of the most common stem cell therapies — including bone marrow transplants and blood transfusions — would require 10 years of FDA review if they were brought to market today.
The problem isn’t over-regulation. It’s outdated regulation. Safety checks and benchmarks for cell manufacturing should be based on real world evidence of past applications. Regulation should focus on the specific potential side effects for each specific potential use. In this regard, we agree with incoming FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who has noted, “Expediting the development of these novel and transformative technologies like gene- and cell-based therapies doesn’t necessarily mean lowering the standard for approval, as I believe other countries have done. But it does mean having a framework that’s crafted to deal with the unique hypothetical risks that these products pose.”
In fact, the United States has the best regenerative medicine manufacturing technology in the world. But it is literally sitting unused in warehouses.
For example, under the Accelerated Manufacture of Pharmaceuticals program, private companies partnered with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop mobile cell and tissue manufacturing plants that can be set up almost anywhere. The facilities can produce cells and tissues at a fraction of the current cost. These mobile factories make real-time production of vaccines and biologics for potential bioterrorist threats and pandemics possible. They are also low-cost, high-tech platforms for experimental evaluation of any type of regenerative medicine.
AMPs are operating in Indonesia, Singapore, China, and Japan where cell products — including vaccines — are being mass produced. Not a single AMP is being used in the United States because of outdated regulations.
To remove this regulatory obstacle, the Trump administration should establish a separate regenerative medicine pathway. This pathway, which could be developed by DARPA, FDA, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, would develop regulatory standards for the safe manufacturing and testing of development of regenerative products to treat battlefield related traumas such as traumatic brain injury, life-threatening limb damage, and drug-resistant pathogens.
The focus on the conditions and circumstances unique to war or counter-terrorism is both appropriate and strategic. After World War II, Franklin Roosevelt directed that the scientific and entrepreneurial talents used to achieve ramp up war-time production of penicillin and blood plasma “be used in the days of peace ahead for the improvement of the national health, the creation of new enterprises bringing new jobs, and the betterment of the national standard of living.”
What was created exceeded that vision. The cooperative efforts to achieve mass production of penicillin and blood plasma inspired and supported the creation of industries that employ millions of people today.
Similarly, developing an affordable source of cell therapies to heal our fighting forces and protect the homeland will yield a wide array of affordable technologies and cures that will produce, in FDR’s words, a fuller and more fruitful employment and a fuller and more fruitful life. Simply put, by making the manufacture of regenerative medicine affordable can help make America great.
Robert Hariri is CEO of Celularity. Robert Goldberg is vice president of Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.
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