New Report on Innovation Shows Challenges Facing Washington's Health Sector

Jun 14, 2010, 11:00 ET from We Work For Health

SEATTLE, June 14 /PRNewswire/ -- A recent study prepared by Battelle finds that while the United States continues to lead the world in biomedical research and development, today that leadership in innovation is "ours to lose" because of the nation's neglect and failure over the last decade to "recognize the reasons for our success and build upon our strengths."

The study, commissioned by the Council for American Medical Innovation, further outlines the regulatory and policy obstacles faced by the health care industry across America, and makes key policy recommendations to turn the tide that is leading the best and brightest American ideas away from the science sectors.

Washington state's biopharmaceutical research sector is not immune to these challenges. However, while various parts of state and local governments have taken up the mantle in recent years to emphasize math and science education and the importance of the science and engineering industries, they have yet to be met with support on a nationwide level.

According to a study released last November by the Washington Research Council, 11 of the state's largest universities spent more than $647 million on life sciences research and development in 2007. The same study counted a total of 175 biotech or biopharma firms, 205 medical device companies and 28 non-profit research organizations in Washington state, and according to the same report, over 22,000 workers in Washington state are directly employed in the biopharmaceutical sector.

"New vaccines, diagnostics, medicines, medical devices, and surgical procedures have enhanced the quality of healthcare, led to better health, increased longevity, reduced disability, and improved quality of life," the Battelle report states. "Between 1999 and 2006 alone, medical advances, including new diagnostics, medicines, and devices, have helped cut the death rate from cardiovascular disease by 29 percent."

An excerpt from the Battelle report discusses the urgency with which the United States should focus on medical and health innovation. From the report:

American medical innovation now stands at a crossroads. Our leadership in medical innovation and the health benefits and economic growth that accrue because of it are at risk. What has changed is:

  • Biomedical science has become more complex and demanding, requiring more involved technology development efforts, including more complex clinical trials.
  • Regulatory review and approval processes are not keeping pace with scientific advances and are no longer as predictable or consistent.
  • Early-stage financing and private investment in R&D are harder to access because of the changing risks and rewards in advancing medical innovation.
  • Talent pipeline supporting medical innovation is at risk.

Further, the study explains a phenomenon that has specifically impacted Washington state's biotech sector—the growth of the commercialization funding gap between basic science and the first round of venture capital known as the "valley of death."

In the past, venture capitalists were much more attuned to investing earlier in the sequence, but have become conservative, not getting involved until a product is well past halfway complete. So a great concern is that inventions cannot make their way into human clinical trials without some source of funding. This is extensively hurting the start-up atmosphere.

"We're all faced with the same reality around the country that we face here in Washington: global leadership in medical innovation is now ours to lose unless we make a national commitment to sustained investments and partnerships to keep the U.S. competitive," said Chris Rivera, president of the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association (WBBA). "It's time for a national innovation agenda with medical innovation at its core.  Innovation, and in particular medical innovation, is at the core of our economy."

The current strength of the local biotechnology sector is largely a result of the concerted efforts of Washington's public leaders. State policymakers created the Life Sciences Discovery Fund in 2005, which since has provided more than $50 million to researchers throughout the state for research that improves the state's life sciences competitiveness.

South Lake Union in Seattle, the development of which has been supported by city policy and infrastructure investment, is also an innovative public-private solution creating a cluster of innovative, high-paying sector jobs. These clusters, and programs such as the early-stage investment collaborative Accelerator Corporation, only help to encourage additional growth. In all, biopharmaceutical research companies spend nearly $1 billion in in-state R&D annually.

"Every direct life sciences job has a multiplier of approximately 3.5 additional indirect jobs.  That's a higher multiplier than in most other industries," said Bob Drewel of the Puget Sound Regional Council. "Our economy cannot afford to lose one of the only industries that have seen growth recently. But in order to support this sector, we must be able to attract private capital, create new mechanisms to facilitate IPOs, and institute tax policies that encourage local investment in R&D and related job growth."

The report recommends the adoption of key policies, including:

  • Provide federal support for the biosciences in K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) efforts, including bioscience teacher preparation and professional development.
  • Increase the number of U.S. and foreign students pursuing graduate degrees and careers in the biosciences in the United States.
  • Adopt tax and economic incentives to boost manufacturing and export-related job growth resulting from medical innovation.
  • Commit to a 10-year "growth" budget strategy for NIH, which includes an emphasis on translational research that moves discoveries through more applied technology development to bridge the "valley of death."
  • Advance national policies and demonstration projects to encourage participation and retention in U.S.-based clinical trials.
  • Fund FDA sufficiently to address critical short-term needs and commit to a sustained funding growth.

About the Council for American Medical Innovation

The United States faces serious challenges to maintaining its leadership position in innovation.  The Council for American Medical Innovation is bringing together leaders in research, medicine, public health, academia, education, labor, and business, who are working in partnership toward a national policy agenda aimed at preserving U.S. leadership in medical innovation.  American medical innovators create millions of high-paying jobs, and their discoveries are integral in the fight to cure cancer and other illnesses.  The Council for American Medical Innovation views leadership in medical innovation as a key part of America's economic recovery, future prosperity and health.

For more information on the Council for American Medical Innovation, visit  

About We Work For Health

We Work for Health unites organizations, companies, individuals and other stakeholders around a common goal: to educate policymakers, key opinion leaders and the media about the economic impact of the life sciences innovation pipeline in Washington state.  We Work for Health seeks to raise awareness of the impact of public policy on innovation in the life sciences, related industries and surrounding communities.

Media Contact: Leah Motz, Nyhus Communications | 206.323.3733,

SOURCE We Work For Health