Sometimes it feels like the left hand isn’t talking to the right.
Recent federal and state polices have been sending conflicting messages to one of our most vital industries — biotech. And the Biden administration is poised to take unnecessary, additional steps that could negatively impact critical scientific innovation.
The biotech industry is fundamental to the national, state and regional economies, and to medical innovation. New York supports approximately 47,000 biotech jobs in the metro area alone. There are more than 150 companies in the life sciences sector based on Long Island employing nearly 10,000 workers.
The proposed Midway Crossing project for a life sciences hub in Ronkonkoma would create an estimated 9,300 jobs. And Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams recently announced plans to further expand the state's life sciences and biotech footprint to create a Manhattan research campus that lawmakers say will create 10,000 new jobs, 2,000 of which will be permanent.
But this is where it gets complicated. Despite good-faith efforts on the state and local level, the Biden administration seems determined to undermine the same industry.
Last spring, the World Trade Organization — with a White House endorsement — moved forward with a proposal that forces pharmaceutical manufacturers to hand over intellectual property information for the COVID-19 vaccines they developed.
The idea was that by giving other countries the vaccine formulations, more vaccines would be available. But by the time the proposal was approved, the world had plenty of vaccines and some countries couldn’t distribute the supply they already had. This infringement was unnecessary and potentially costly — for the economy, jobs, and innovation. Why would companies invest in research and development if it's to be taken from them? Why would investors continue to support research for medical advancements if the return on that investment can be hijacked by government entities? Why would state and local governments invest as New York just announced if those jobs could be at risk because of unnecessary interference from the federal government and global entities?
Sadly, more of the same is on the horizon.
This time, the WTO wants biotech companies that developed breakthrough COVID treatments and therapeutics to give foreign countries access to those formulations.
This flies in the face of President Joe Biden’s repeated efforts to promote U.S.-made products. Legislation in Congress also would encourage development of key components for medicines and vaccines here in America, so we don’t have to rely on foreign countries.
So how does giving away our intellectual properties to foreign countries make sense?
The new WTO proposal is a bad idea and entirely unwarranted, given that the manufacturers of those therapeutics, like vaccine manufacturers, have already made voluntary agreements to help get the medications to those who need them across the globe. Patents are not preventing generics manufacturers in low-income countries from licensing and producing COVID-19 therapies. Waiving patent protection would do nothing to increase the availability of those drugs. Such a waiver would take intellectual property from companies that work tirelessly to develop treatments — thus removing financial incentives for further research and development of lifesaving treatments.
The WTO’s misguided proposal could have disastrous consequences. Further eroding intellectual property protections will discourage research and development and make it even harder to fight deadly diseases and future pandemics. That’s something our leaders cannot afford to risk. We urge the Biden administration to put an end to this cycle of bad ideas.
This guest essay reflects the views of Lev Ginsburg, senior director of government affairs for the Business Council of New York State.