The Independent Voter Project's 2015 Business and Leadership Policy Conference, an annual event with lawmakers, business professionals, and policy experts, kicked off Monday with a presentation from Dr. Lanhee Chen, Director of Domestic Policy Studies at Stanford University and Lecturer in Public Policy Program.
Dr. Chen focused on innovations in the health care market, something he says is often overlooked when we discuss the current state of health care in the U.S. Most of the time, discussions tend to revolve around costs, and people tend to forget how far the market -- especially the domestic market -- has come at treating common health issues like blood pressure, diabetes, and Alzheimer's.
"We have the most innovative health care system in the world," Dr. Chen remarked.
He stated that between 1986 and 2001, 40 percent of increases to life expectancy came from health care innovations. Since then, that number has increased to 73 percent.However, he acknowledged that while the U.S. has made some of the greatest strides in modern medicine, the nation certainly has one of the most expensive health care systems in the world.
An increase in demand for medical services along with advancements in technology have played a major role in keeping prices up -- and Americans spend a lot on prescription drugs and health expenditures. In fact, nearly 20 percent of the U.S. economy is spent on health care.
However, Chen believes that many people look at the wrong metric when examining costs. Instead of asking how much a cure costs, the question people should ask, he argues is, "how much does a cure cost compared to the alternative?"
As a prime example, Chen used innovations in treating Hepatitis C, what he calls a "silent killer." If not identified in time, Hep C can lead to more serious medical problems, including cancer. However, with medical innovations, it went from "highly problematic to curable."
According to Chen, the only curable therapies for Hepatitis C used to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars (going well over half a million in some cases), and treated more serious medical conditions that resulted from Hep C. Now, while still expensive, a curable treatment for Hep C costs approximately $24,000.
Compared to the alternative, innovations in medicine have actually brought the cost of treatment down for many medical issues, including Hep C and HIV, and save more lives.
Still, the process to finding these potential cures is long, arduous, and expensive. In total, it can cost a pharmaceutical company $2.6 billion to develop a new drug. There are currently 7,000 medicines in development, 70% of which are first-in-class drugs, meaning they stand the best chance at success.
However, only 0.01% of molecules used to develop a new drug make it through the process. An overwhelming majority of the drugs that make it to the pre-clinical and clinical trial either do not make it past the trial period or do not make it past FDA approval.Chen argues that the pipeline from discovery to FDA review to manufacturing and distribution needs to be more efficient. The current process takes years, maybe even decades, and with the slim rate of success, the boom in domestic innovation could be stymied by a complex regulatory system -- limiting the nation's ability to compete globally.
"Americans can and should be the best at health care innovation," he said.
Chen emphasized the point that this is not a partisan issue, and called it a bipartisan issue instead. When asked if the current hyper-partisan environment could slow down future medical innovation in the U.S., he said that it was certainly possible, but he is confident both sides of the aisle can still find common ground on the issue.
"I think this is one of those issues where Democrats and Republicans have managed to come together, and I am hopeful that they will continue to come together because there is a recognition that we are at risk of threatening the innovation that has created so much human advance, particularly in the last 5 or 6 years," Chen said in an interview for IVN.
Ultimately, though, he thinks it is an issue that will require "presidential-level leadership" to fix the FDA, because it is not an issue that rises on a lot of people's radar screens. He added that the U.S. is still in a good spot when it comes to innovation and putting the right regulatory system in place will keep that innovation going.