Independent Voter Project Conference: The Conversation We Should Be Having on Bioscience

While most of the nation is indulging in a partisan driven dialogue on health care, pinpointing blame and circulating partisan talking points on the shortcomings of the Affordable Care Act and its website, California legislators and representatives from the biopharmaceutical industry were busy having a real conversation.

Gathered at the Independent Voter Project’s annual policy conference, the conversation included voices from several major pharmaceutical companies and state legislators from California and Texas. The panel on Bioscience and Innovation was one of a series of 5 panels focusing on major issues facing California. The purpose of the panels was to have a substantive conversation about real issues, beyond the larger public dialogue that often reduces serious issues to superficial talking points.

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The panel discussion highlighted the biopharmaceutical industry in California, focusing on the research and development process, the importance of and barriers to patient adherence, and possible solutions.

California, the birthplace of biotechnology, is home to 2,321 biomedical companies that employ some 270,000 Californians. The role of biotechnology in the California economy is indisputable by California legislators and industry representatives alike.

What remains unclear, however, is how to balance that innovation with the increasing cost of medication.

“The competing values in our society are butting heads with each other,” a representative from a major pharmaceutical company explained.

While patient advocacy groups are pushing for the fast approval of medication, their expectations of the final product are unrealistic. When a medication is flawed, “you have people point fingers at the FDA [Federal Drug Association] and that doesn’t lead to productive discussion.”

This led into a deep discussion of the practical realities of developing, approving, and distributing safe specialty prescriptions. Too often, the group universally concluded, our public dialogue doesn’t take into consideration just how much of an investment a company must put into clinical trials and the lengthy approval process; an increasingly risky investment in an environment where state and federal funding is diminishing.

Another issue discussed in the panel was the importance of and challenges to getting patients to appropriately adhere to medical advice.

A Texas State Senator raised an important question, asking how doctors can make it easier for patients to fill prescriptions and take their medications appropriately.

“Should patients have the choice to go to mail order? Whatever makes it easier for a patient to stay on their medicine is a good policy,” a panelist responded.

Adherence to prescribed medicine, or lack thereof, dramatically influences the cost of health care. For example, diabetes costs hundreds of millions of dollars per year, with the costs expected to grow to $515 billion by 2025.

“There is no education program in place to educate patients on what to do to not get hospitalized again,” a California State Senator added.

Legislators and representative agreed on the need for education and preventative measures in the fight to reduce healthcare costs.

In spite of the challenges discussed in the panel discussion, there have been significant advances in the pharmaceutical industry in California. Since 1980, life expectancy for cancer patients has increased by 3 years. Since the introduction of the first treatments, HIV/AIDS deaths have dropped by nearly 83 percent.

California is home to 2,321 biomedical companies.
While the organized discussion ended, California legislators continued the conversation amongst themselves, reflecting on some of the comments made throughout the hour and a half discussion.

These are the conversations that are being ignored in the national dialogue and replaced with the partisan blame game. In a world where we’ve turned every major political issue into a competition between two partisan teams, it should not come as a surprise that policymakers and industry leaders traveled to Hawaii to find reprieve from the media’s “gotcha” mentality.