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Policymakers must protect Maryland’s life sciences industry

Maryland’s biotech industry has been vital to the national COVID-19 response, from developing treatments to improving diagnostic tests.

COVID-19 is not the first time our state led the nation’s response to a public health challenge. Maryland companies and organizations were the first to map the human genome, the first to develop a rapid Ebola test, and the first to create an FDA-approved colon cancer blood test.

These achievements are due in part to the value of the intellectual property (IP) these companies create. The biopharmaceutical industry nationwide invests over $100 billion in research and development each year. Most of these research projects never pan out, and the ones that do can take over a decade to get a lifesaving treatment from the lab to the pharmacy.

Companies can make these investments because the United States has the world’s leading intellectual property protections. IP protections are the backbone of our innovation economy, enabling companies to eventually recoup their huge upfront costs and earn returns that can be put back into future research and development projects.

Unfortunately, some policymakers are considering weakening the very U.S. intellectual property protections on existing treatments that enable such robust research and development.

The World Trade Organization is considering issuing a temporary IP waiver for technologies and medications related to COVID-19, called a TRIPS waiver, in the name of increasing access to vaccines and treatments in low-income countries worldwide. However, there is little evidence that IP protections for these vaccines are the barrier to broader uptake.

The African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention even recently asked that all COVID-19 vaccine donations be paused, citing distribution logistics, infrastructure challenges, and vaccine hesitancy as the leading vaccination challenge, not supply shortage or availability.

We must support Maryland’s life sciences and biotechnology industries as they continue to invest in scientific research and development for COVID-19 and future pandemics, as well as other diseases and public health threats. Weakening the industry’s intellectual property protections can weaken their ability to invest in and deliver future innovations to patients.

Maryland is home to 2,700 life sciences firms and over 500 biotech companies, as well as the National Institutes of Health , Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Maryland. The world relies on these companies’ and organizations’ ability to research and develop medications, products, and therapeutics, including COVID-19 treatments, diagnostic tests, and technological support.

If these companies fear their IP is no longer secure, many would hesitate to invest in the research that leads to the development and distribution of lifesaving medications the world depends on.

Though the United States accounts for one-twentieth of the world’s population, two-thirds of new drugs are produced in the U.S. Our global leadership in drug production is tied to our global leadership in intellectual property protection.

Patients worldwide deserve new innovations that could save them or their loved ones. Patent protections provide crucial incentives for the research and development leaders in Maryland and elsewhere need to continue working towards cures, while driving inclusive economic growth locally.

Maryland’s biopharmaceutical industry is vital to the continuing global response to COVID-19 and the pursuit of innovative cures for the diseases we have yet to eradicate. Enacting policies that hamper their ability to respond to public health threats would be devastating.

It is imperative that Maryland policymakers consider policies that address the health care problems of tomorrow without harming the industry that invests in and creates today’s solutions. With thousands of jobs and future lifesaving innovation at stake, we must focus on protecting Maryland’s biotechnology industries, which won’t just affect Marylanders, but people worldwide.

Martin Rosendale is the CEO of the Maryland Tech Council, a community of more than 450 life science and technology organizations.