Hillary Rodham Clinton Talks Biotech

June 26, 2014

The biotech industry’s high-cost, high-reward financial model could benefit from support from biotech-rich states like California, former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday.

Speaking at the BIO 2014 convention in San Diego, Clinton told a luncheon audience that she understood biotech companies face extreme risks in developing new health care products. State support, along with a “national framework” including provisions to help patients who can’t afford biotech therapies, are part of a rational policy, said Clinton.

A potential Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, Clinton has long worked on health care policy. She was interviewed by Jim Greenwood, president and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. BIO is holding the convention in San Diego for the first time since 2008.

Clinton also endorsed the use of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs in agriculture to improve crops, such as by engineering them for drought resistance. She suggested the biotech industry stress these characteristics instead of focusing on the term GMOs.

In addition, Clinton urged the biotech industry to give more consideration to hiring women.

Greenwood said the average cost of developing new drugs is about $1.2 billion, going through complex clinical trials for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, with no guarantee of success.

“These people are incredible risk-takers and entrepreneurs,” Greenwood said. “Most of their projects fail, and most of the drugs that get approved by the FDA never pay for themselves … You can’t be engaged in the highest-risk endeavor and not have high reward. The economics don’t work out.”

“I recognize the dilemma,” Clinton said.

State leaders such as Calif. governor Jerry Brown, who gave a brief endorsement of California biotech before Clinton spoke; Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick, and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe are providing enlightened leadership for biotech, Clinton said of her fellow Democrats. But other countries are also providing subsidies, and could lure away biotech if the United States doesn’t come up with a “sensible” alternative to provide incentives for risk-takers.

“California (undertook) a very important task in creating a funding stream for stem cell research,” Clinton said. “Other states have followed suit, when it looked as though the federal government would not be doing that. States have a role to play, but we need a national framework.”

Clinton was referring to the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, funded with $3 billion in bond money. The program was created in 2004 by California voters in part because former president George W. Bush, the first president to fund embryonic stem cell research, limited funding to those lines of human embryonic stem cells created by August, 2001. CIRM and the federal government also fund research with many other types of non-embryonic stem cells.

On GMOs, Clinton said the biotech industry “should continue to try to make the case to those who are skeptical that they may not know what they are eating already, because the question of genetically modified foods or hybrids has gone on for many many years, and there is a big gap between what the facts are and what the perceptions are.”

“If you talk about drought-resistant seeds, and I have promoted those all over Africa, by definition they have been engineered to be drought-resistant,” Clinton said. “That’s the beauty of them. Maybe somebody can get their harvest done and not starve, and maybe have something left over to sell.”

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