A 2020 Vision for Health Care Priorities in the United States

On August 23, 2010, Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia opined on the case of Drs. James L. Sherley and Theresa Deisher, Nightlight Christian Adoptions (“Nightlight”), Embryos, Shayne and Tina Nelson, William and Patricia Flynn, and Christian Medical Association (“CMA”) who brought a suit for declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent the National Institutes of Health from funding human embryonic stem (hES) cell research under their “Guidelines for Human Stem Cell Research.” One question that comes up in all this is what is the impact of these federal policy reversals on biotechnology companies.

I believe the issues at hand have less to do with corporate business plans that they do with public health policy. Here is where I take off the CEO of a biotech company hat and put on the hat of a human being with friends and loved ones in need of new medical therapies. Human ES cells have spawned the new field of regenerative medicine because of their potential to be used in making all of the cell types of the human body for the first time in the history of medicine. This is the basis of the reasonable anticipation that they could be used to repair the tissues of the human body afflicted with degenerative disease. The cells were originally isolated with private biotech funds. And it has always been the case that a prohibition of federally funded research gives private biotech companies a less competitive environment in which to operate. Since there are no federal restrictions on privately funded hES cell research, biotech can potentially make relatively more discoveries and file more patents if we have no competition from academic groups like Harvard, MIT, and Stanford. But the reason I have been an advocate of federal funding for so long, is not that we receive or depend upon federal grants (we have none). Rather, the reason is that hES cells have the potential to cure many chronic and devastating degenerative diseases about to cripple our health care system.

Age-related degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis, heart failure, macular degeneration, and type II diabetes, to name just a few, are rapidly increasing in frequency with the aging of our baby boom population. Unless our country tackles these problems very soon, we will be left with years of medical expenses totaling trillions of dollars, projected by even conservative estimates to break the US economy and severely compromise our productivity. As disciplined as we may be as a small biotech company, BioTime cannot develop all of the dozens or even hundreds of medical therapies possible with hES cell technology all by ourselves. The smart thing for our country, indeed for the developed world, is to prepare for the age wave of degenerative disease by aggressively funding the emerging field of regenerative medicine, taking a rational and compassionate approach to the application of science and technology for the human good. BioTime’s management would welcome competition from academia for patents if the results were an acceleration of the pace of new therapies for these life-threatening diseases. If we are to maintain the US as a competitive economy, it is essential to have a vision and strategic plan of tackling the coming wave of degenerative diseases in the year 2020 through aggressive national funding of the field of regenerative medicine.