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What Biotech Innovation Needs

The rapid delivery of vaccines against COVID-19 has heightened everyone’s appreciation for biotech research and development, leading some governments to embark on a quest for “life-science sovereignty.” But to strengthen their capacity for medical innovation, policymakers will need to heed the lessons of past success stories.

CAMBRIDGE – The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped attitudes toward public health, fiscal policy, and the state’s role in the economy. Demands for greater supply-chain resilience and strategic autonomy in developing and producing medicines have given rise to the concept of “life-science sovereignty.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, for example, has announced an ambitious plan calling for France to produce at least 20 new biotherapies by 2030. With financing from the French public investment bank, his government’s La French Care initiative aims to support the domestic biotech ecosystem and turn France into a “pioneer mRNA nation.” Similarly, many other governments – from the Netherlands to the United Kingdom – are doubling down on their domestic biotech sectors.

This attention is welcome, but will it be enough? As the COVID experience has shown, securing approvals for a handful of vaccines and therapeutics requires hundreds of clinical trials for existing and new compounds – many of which fail. Medical innovation is expensive, and the costs and risks associated with it tend to be misunderstood by policymakers and ordinary citizens alike.

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