What Will It Take for the U.S. to Maintain Leadership in the Biopharma Industry?

What Will It Take for the U.S. to Maintain Leadership in the Biopharma Industry?

The biopharmaceutical industry is an important contributor to U.S. economic growth and sustainability, with more than 650,000 direct jobs (supporting a total of nearly 4 million jobs) and an economic output that totals more than $900 billion.[i] This significant economic impact is due to the high value-added nature of the sector, its extensive supply chain relationships, and high-wage jobs. As a result, gains and losses in the biopharmaceutical sector cascade across many important economic sectors in the U.S.


Deborah Cummings, Senior Program Manager, Battelle

It is becoming clear, however, that the U.S. can no longer take its leadership in biopharmaceuticals or other knowledge-based industries for granted. As noted by President Barack Obama, “A half century ago, this nation made a commitment to lead the world in scientific and technological innovation; to invest in education, in research, in engineering; to set a goal of reaching space and engaging every citizen in that historic mission … [O]ther countries are now beginning to pull ahead in the pursuit of this generation’s great discoveries.”[ii] For the first time, U.S. economic leadership is being challenged by international competitors who are increasingly competing on the basis of technological innovation and scientific talent.

A recent study, commissioned by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and undertaken by Battelle’s Technology Partnership Practice, found that despite the global recession and the subsequent slow recovery, countries around the world—from developing countries, emerging economies, and developed economies—are implementing policies and programs to foster innovation and grow knowledge-based industries; many of which are targeted to the biopharmaceutical industry and related sectors. Despite the short-term costs associated with these investments, many foreign governments recognize the long-term economic benefits. As a result, more and more, the U.S. is competing globally to maintain its leadership position in biopharmaceuticals.

For purposes of this study, entitled The Biopharmaceutical Research and Development Enterprise: Growth Platform for Economies Around the World, Battelle examined policies and programs being implemented to promote the bioscience sector in 18 countries and the European Union (E.U.). These countries were selected because of their interest in growing an innovation economy. In addition, countries selected include a mix of developed countries with an existing biopharmaceutical presence (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Sweden, the United Kingdom [UK], and the E.U. as a whole) and emerging countries that are targeting the biopharmaceutical sector (Brazil, Chile, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, and South Korea).

This report summarizes key findings regarding the efforts being implemented across this mix of countries. It is designed to help gauge how the global environment is changing and the extent to which global competitors are actively seeking to attract and grow this sector. For example, other countries are increasingly seeking to make substantial public investments in R&D infrastructure, fostering R&D investment via tax and other research incentives, focusing on attracting and growing talent in related employment fields, ensuring access to capital and fostering public-private partnerships. In addition, many countries have their own national innovation agenda specifically focusing on biomedical research.

Perhaps the most striking finding of this analysis is the similarity found across countries in terms of policies and programs countries are implementing. While developed countries are more able to leverage their own intellectual and financial resources and developing economies are more likely to focus first on attracting foreign direct investment and talent from abroad before turning to development of indigenous resources of technology, talent, and capital, all of the countries examined are focusing on strategic components to grow their biopharmaceutical economy.

Therefore, while the U.S. has dominated globally over the past three decades, other developed and developing countries have been making substantial investments via new policies and programs to increase the economic footprint of the biopharmaceutical and related sectors in their own countries. The U.S. has historically been characterized by strong public and private R&D investments, a free market system that supports innovation, a robust IP and regulatory system, as well as access to venture and other private capital and a well-educated and highly-skilled workforce. Increasingly, other countries are seeking to develop knowledge-based economies to not only spur economic growth but also increase their ability to compete effectively in a global economy. Many of these countries are borrowing effective pro-innovation practices that have worked in the U.S. and building on them at the same time that the U.S., in some respects, is becoming less favorable to innovation. For example, America’s innovative biopharmaceutical companies face increasing challenges, ranging from the cost and increased complexity of bringing new medicines to patients, the prospect of attracting and sustaining the capital needed to develop tomorrow’s new treatments and cures, the increasing uncertainty related to coverage and payment of innovative medicines, and intensifying competition from other countries.

At the same time, international competition is rising and retaining U.S. leadership will require the U.S. to not only maintain but expand investments in R&D and commercialization, education and workforce development, financial capital, and the nation’s science and technology infrastructure. Just as other countries have drawn lessons from the growth of the U.S. biopharmaceutical sector, so too can the U.S. learn from other countries that are strategically and effectively creating a more favorable environment for R&D investment around the globe.

[i] Battelle Technology Partnership Practice. “The U.S. Biopharmaceuticals Sector: Economic Contribution to the Nation,” July 2011.

[ii] President Barack Obama, National Academy of Sciences, April 27, 2009.

Deborah Cummings is a senior program manager with Battelle.