REINSTEIN: Short-sighted policies from Washington threaten patients’ hope for innovative new medicines

In this May 22, 2020, file photo the Dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is visible through heavy fog in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo | Andrew Harnik, File)

We are currently in a golden age of biopharmaceutical innovation, and scientists are discovering life-changing cures or treatments that were previously unimaginable. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently approved the first-ever drug for children with lupus and the first new treatment for sickle cell disease in nearly 20 years. Unfortunately, patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease are still waiting for a cure. And recent policy proposals from Congress and the White House threaten to stifle innovation and leave patients like me without hope for a future free of this disease.

At the age of 57, I was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s. Approximately 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s today, and this number is multiplying. By 2050, barring any new developments that would slow, treat or cure the disease, Alzheimer’s will affect more than 13.8 million people in the United States.

Alzheimer’s does not stop at memory loss; it kills. Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., and while deaths from other major diseases have decreased significantly, Alzheimer’s-related deaths are skyrocketing. Between 2000 and 2018, deaths due to Alzheimer’s increased by 146 percent. Alzheimer’s patients currently rely on medications to treat our symptoms, but there will be no cure without continued biopharmaceutical research and development (R&D). 

That said, I feel incredibly fortunate to live in a country that discovers more new drugs than the rest of the world combined. Not only is America an innovative powerhouse, but U.S. patients have access to significantly more treatment options than patients in other countries — and we get them faster. For instance, Americans have access to 100% of new medications used to treat respiratory illnesses, whereas Canadians enjoy a little more than half that rate (only 55%). U.S. cancer patients have access to 96% of all new medicines within just two months of their launch. In Greece, Ireland and Italy, the wait times average 41, 23, and 21 months, respectively.

By 2050, barring any new developments that would slow, treat or cure the disease, Alzheimer’s will affect more than 13.8 million people in the United States.

America’s robust R&D ecosystem assures me that once there is an FDA-approved drug for Alzheimer’s, I will quickly have access to it. However, policy proposals like H.R. 3, championed by speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, or President Trump’s recent executive order, would choke off American innovation, making the possibility for new treatments much less likely. That’s because these policies contain an international pricing index (IPI) that would link U.S. drug prices to those paid in other countries. While this attempt at lowering drug prices is well-intentioned, implementing an IPI would be disastrous for patients like me.

Lawmakers advocating for an IPI fail to understand that America has consistently led the world in developing breakthrough medicines because we have always rejected government price controls on drugs. These policies would artificially lower U.S. drug prices, meaning less available capital to allocate towards biopharmaceutical R&D — and fewer new medicines as a result.

This scenario isn’t just theoretical. Before adopting price controls, European companies invested up to 24% more on drug R&D than American companies. Now, our European counterparts have fallen behind by as much as 40% in R&D. Unsurprisingly, a Congressional Budget Office analysis of H.R. 3 has shown that it would lead to at least 40 fewer new drugs in the next 20 years. President Trump’s economic advisors have projected this legislation could lead to as many as 100 fewer medications over the next decade.

Sen. Tillis has helped me navigate red tape around the Social Security Administration after my diagnosis. I hope that he continues advocating for patients by rejecting legislation that would jeopardize our future, and I urge his colleagues in Congress to do the same.

Jay Reinstein is a retired Fayetteville assistant city manager. He serves on the Alzheimer’s Association National of Directors.