This editorial by Kelly Slone was published in The Salt Lake Tribune on February 17, 2018. Slone is the President and CEO of BioUtah, an independent, non-profit  trade association serving the life science industry in the state of Utah.

Commentary: Drug importation is the wrong Rx for Utah patients and jobs

Risky drug importation legislation now being considered at the state Capitol not only threatens to open the door to dangerous counterfeit medicines, but it could also dampen job growth in Utah’s vibrant, dynamic life-sciences industry.

The experts and entrepreneurs who lead Utah’s 1,300 life-sciences companies deeply understand the desire to bend the cost curve for medicines downward. We also know first-hand how difficult and delicate a job it is to develop effective medicines that truly help patients.

We are troubled by the inability to ensure patient safety with drugs that are brought from or through Canada. House Bill 163 could expose patients to counterfeit, altered or unapproved drugs that lack oversight and quality control from any health authority. Secretaries of the federal Department of Health and Human Services – serving presidents from both political parties – have said they have no way to ensure the safety of imported products. They declined to put patients at risk by creating a federal program to import drugs. How does the state of Utah, standing alone, believe that it can promise patients in our state that imported drugs are safe when the federal government cannot?

In contrast, Utah’s biopharma and pharmaceutical companies are developing new medicines despite the risks, long timelines and high rates of failure associated with these endeavors. Our companies must adhere to the complex, costly and rigorous FDA drug approval process and ongoing manufacturing certification. These processes, which are in place to ensure patient safety, are not applicable to therapeutics sold outside of the United States. This of course creates risk for patients and puts U.S. drug manufacturers, including Utah companies, at a disadvantage.

We are equally troubled by the risk that importation poses for Utah’s economy.

Our state’s life-sciences sector, including biopharma and pharmaceutical companies, represent a dynamic job creation engine for the state, employing 37,000 Utahns at well-above-average wages. Innovation is the key to the growth of the 1,300 Utah life-sciences companies, 80 percent of which are young start-ups.

Studies from across the nation have been clear: importation dampens innovation by creating fewer investments in research and development. This in turn hurts patients by delaying the development of ground-breaking, life-saving medicines.

For example, If the massive investment in developing a new medicines can be devalued instantly by the importation of products that may be alluring in price – but potentially substandard for patients – the ability of Utah companies to secure future investments will be hampered. Current and potential investors are already sounding the alarm.

Utah is known throughout the country for having a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, which is the product of years of work by leaders in the private sector and in state government. Our vision has always been to give new hope to patients worldwide while making Utah a national leader in life sciences.

We strongly urge our state leaders to continue the work of making Utah the life sciences envy of the nation while protecting the patients the industry so passionately serves. Let’s reject this well-meaning, but flawed legislation and instead foster the significant benefits that Utah’s burgeoning life sciences industry brings to health care and our economy.