For U.S. Healthcare Reform and Global Health Crises, Both Public and Private Efforts Needed

Patently BIOtech

This morning Laura and I attended 2 sessions about the benefits of collaborative public-private partnerships at the International Convention.

The first was the super session “Global Biotechnology Innovation: Connecting the Laboratory, the Field, and the Marketplace” with speakers from the Food & Drug Administration, National Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – moderated by former U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services, Louis Sullivan. The speakers discussed how discoveries created through collaborative initiatives have accelerated biotechnology innovation to address global health disparities. The second session, “Time for Action: A prescription for Health-Care Reform” was moderated by BIO’s President & CEO and included speakers from the American Cancer Society, Regence BlueCross BlueShield, and the American Medical Association. The speakers presented their association’s perspectives on how U.S. healthcare reform could become a reality under the Obama Administration after decades of Congressional failures to comprehensively address rising costs and limited access to care.

The two panels addressed what are seemingly different topics: one global heath, and the second national healthcare reform. What struck me was the need to sustain new, complex collaborations between all stakeholders in order to encourage finding solutions to “old” problems.

The old view of global health programs states that logistical issues, including a lack of needed resources and capacity, require a top-down strategy with governments leading the efforts. Yesterday’s idea about healthcare reform, taken up by many a Congress the past 20 years, asserts that only the grassroots efforts of individual Americans can encourage permanent, sustainable solutions in communities where the government is unable to keep up (and often times hurts innovation rather than helping).

The truth is, for both global health goals and national healthcare reform, innovation requires both a “grass-top” and a “grass-roots” approach. I stole that phrase from the CEO of the American Cancer Society, John Seffrin. Seffrin is also CEO of the ACS Action Network. Both branches of the ACS facilitate efforts at the individual level (encouraging prevention and wellness efforts, for example) and the national level (analyzing Congressional proposals for reform). Both entities working together help solidify the foundation upon which the war on cancer can be won.

Indeed, the driving factor of encouraging biotechnology innovation to meet health care goals comes from the individual human beings who suffer, manage, and cure their own or another’s illness. Individuals collectively bring their unique experience and knowledge as patients, physicians, researchers, venture capitalists, university administrators, and government policymakers to public discourse, and by working together, benefit each other and accelerate finding a solution to health needs.

Some examples taken from the 2 sessions:

1. Gardasil, the blockbuster cervical cancer vaccine appeared under the guidance of collaborative efforts via the CDC.

2. The hope of collaboration helped the FDA form the basis for what would become the Critical Path Initiative for clinical trials.

2. Collaboration was the key for the American Medical Association’s work to address streamlining patient care by studying inefficiencies inequalities in the healthcare system, as Dr. Patrice Harris described this morning.

3. AMA, BIO, and ACS joined together to create the “Health Economy Now” website, which puts the focus of U.S. healthcare reform efforts on the need to lower costs through health information technology, changes in the reimbursement system, and encouragement of prevention & wellness. Jason Daughn of Regence remarked that “real reform lets innovators innovate, and preserves competition through public-private partnerships.”

4. James Curran, Dean of the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University described that when the HIV/AIDS epidemic first emerged in 1981, it was thought that we would never find the cause or be fully able to characterize the disease. Since then, we can now screen the blood supply, extend the lives of those infected with HIV with antiretroviral therapy, prevent pregnant women from passing the virus to their unborn children, and measure the viral load of an infected individual’s blood.

 Both public and private entities are needed at the table of public discourse, not one or the other. We can address health needs in both the United States and developing countries at the same time by working together via open, fair, and collaborative partnerships. It saves money, time, effort and – most important of all – lives.

This post was co-written by Margarita Noriega and Laura Sambataro at BIO.

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