Opinion

Spurring Development of New Medicines Critical for Nations with Aging Populations

According to the Pew Research Center, the global population of people aged 65 and older will triple by 2050. For countries like the United States and Japan, both of which have rapidly aging populations with high life expectancies, getting control over rising healthcare costs will be a priority for decades to come.

One of the reasons why people have been able to live longer is because of biopharmaceutical innovation. Progress made in this field has vastly improved the care and treatment available for many of the world’s most devastating illnesses, including cancer. Since my mother passed away from colon cancer 16 years ago, the number of treatments available for cancer care has increased dramatically, due in part to the proliferation of innovations like biologic drugs. In fact, colon cancer patients are now living three times as long and their death rates have decreased by 50 percent.

At the same time, these aging populations present many nations with growing challenges to properly care for all members of their societies. The older a population is, the more citizens will be relying on a country’s pension system and looking to the government for health care. Governments all over the world must continually work to ensure there will be effective treatment options available for their citizens in the future and they will be financially sound enough to support an influx of patients into their national healthcare systems.

New biopharmaceutical medicines can certainly help alleviate some of these strains on governments’ healthcare systems, partly by reducing the number of far costlier surgeries and lengthy hospitalizations. In order to meet the growing healthcare demands of an aging global population, the research and discovery of new medicines must be allowed to flourish. This is especially true in the area of biologics, which have already proven their value in several disease classes and could have the potential for revolutionary new treatments in areas like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Yet while the U.S. incentivizes the development of biologics with strong protections for intellectual property, other nations are taking a much more myopic view.

A case in point is the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which is currently being negotiated among 12 nations in the Pacific Rim region. Once enacted, the trade pact has the potential to completely transform the global economic landscape as the countries participating in it comprise 40 percent of global GDP. Unfortunately, critical issues including the intellectual property chapter in particular, have yet to be finalized.

In the case of IP protections for biopharmaceuticals, since it takes an estimated 10-15 years and $2.6 billion to bring a new medicine to market, innovators rely on IP protections to ensure the pipeline for new drug development remains open. When negotiating the TPP, the countries must consider the impending needs of their aging populations and include policies that will promote continued biopharmaceutical innovation. The best way to do that is to include strong, enforceable IP protections in the TPP, which would include 12 years of data protection for biologics drugs.

For patients, should IP protection provisions be scaled back, innovations critical to the development of treatments and medicines for patients struggling with various diseases could be threatened. Continued investment in research and development is crucial to help patients benefit from the very latest technologies and treatments, and that is just not possible without the IP protections to safeguard those innovations.

As the most innovative nation in the world, the U.S. has an opportunity right now to assert its leadership and successfully bring the TPP negotiations to a close.  A successful TPP will help all nations grow their economies for the future by fostering the investments necessary to build innovative, IP-centric industries, which pay better and form the backbone of knowledge-based economies like our own. Innovators will continually be encouraged to pursue their ideas, confident that their inventions and investments will be adequately protected. This cycle of innovation is exactly why such tremendous progress has been made in biopharmaceutical research, and why we can’t afford to set a dangerous precedent by weakening IP protections.

As Trade Ministers from the 12 nations seek to complete the TPP this week in Hawaii, U.S. representatives must keep in mind both the value and the hope that new medicines give to patients around the world. On behalf of patients and the future health of our economy, our government must ignore the flawed claims being made by anti-trade groups, and work to secure the strongest possible TPP.

Mr. Spiegel is the Executive Director of the Global Colon Cancer Association.

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