(p. A17) In his last year as vice president, Joe Biden launched a “cancer moonshot” to accelerate cures for the disease. It was short-lived, but he did help negotiate an agreement in Congress easing regulation of breakthrough drugs and medical devices.
In February , President Biden revived the initiative, setting a goal of reducing cancer death rates by at least 50% over the next 25 years. It’s ambitious but may be achievable given how rapidly scientific knowledge and treatments are advancing. Other Biden policies, however, are at odds with the goals of this one.
Two pharmaceutical breakthroughs were announced only last week that could save tens of thousands of lives each year and redefine cancer care. Yet the tax hikes and drug-price controls that the Biden administration is pitching would discourage the private investment that has delivered these potential cures.
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Oncologists were blown away by the results reported last week in the New England Journal of Medicine: All 12 patients receiving the drug achieved complete remission after six months of treatment. None needed surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. Although some may relapse, the 100% success rate is unprecedented even for a small trial.
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Last week AstraZeneca in partnership with Daiichi Sankyo reported that Enhertu reduced the risk of death by 36% in patients with metastatic breast cancer with low HER2 and by half for the subset who were hormone-receptor negative. These results blow the outcomes for other metastatic breast-cancer therapies out of the water.
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These treatment breakthroughs aren’t happening because of government programs. They’re happening because pharmaceutical companies have invested decades and hundreds of billions of dollars in drug research and development. It typically takes 10.5 years and $1.3 billion to bring a new drug to market. About 95% of cancer drugs fail.
This is important to keep in mind as Mr. Biden and Democrats in Congress push for Medicare to “negotiate”—i.e., cap—drug prices and raise taxes on corporations and investors. The large profits that drugmakers notch from successful drugs are needed to reward shareholders for their investment risk and encourage future investment. Capital is mobile.
Mr. Biden’s proposal to increase the top marginal individual income-tax rates, including on capital gains, would punish venture capitalists who seed biotech startups, which do most early-stage research on cancer drugs and are often acquired by large drugmakers. At the same time, his proposed corporate global minimum tax would raise costs of intellectual property, which is often taxed at lower rates abroad.
There aren’t many things to celebrate nowadays, but biotech innovation is one. Let’s hope the president doesn’t kill his own cancer moonshot.
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(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 15, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)