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Medical research can cure state finances

Updated: May 27, 2011 5:33PM

A new report from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) identifies five genes that cause Alzheimer’s disease. This groundbreaking discovery could lead to new, more effective treatments for the quarter million Illinois residents suffering from this devastating illness.

This news also serves as a reminder of the importance of investment in medical innovation, particularly advanced biopharmaceutical research. The treatments and cures generated by this work can generate profound benefits for the sick — and the economy.

Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cancer and other chronic diseases claim millions of lives every year and add hundreds of billions of dollars to the national healthcare bill. Indeed, according to the Milken Institute, the cost in treatment and lost productivity from chronic diseases will top $4.2 trillion by 2023.

Bio-pharmaceutical research holds the promise of cures for these diseases.

This industry is also a vital source of high-paying jobs. Bio-pharmaceutical companies directly employ more than 680,000 people in the U.S., according to a report from Archstone Consulting. They indirectly support about 3.2 million jobs in related fields. And in Illinois specifically, the industry supports more than 167,000 jobs, many of which are located in Lake County.

And these jobs offer good wages. Nationally, the average bio-pharmaceutical employee earns nearly $89,000 a year — that’s more than twice the overall average. In Illinois, they earn an average of more than $100,000 a year.

Cultivating biopharmaceuticals would also generate more tax revenue. The average Illinois industry employee pays nearly $30,000 in state and federal taxes every year — more than twice the average Illinois taxpayer. If this industry grows, the state will have more money to devote to vital programs, like hiring teachers and improving roads

Bolstering biopharmaceuticals is an effective means of kick-starting the economy. The industry contributes more than $290 billion to the U.S. GDP annually. And bio-pharmaceutical companies pump more than $43 billion into the Illinois economy every year. If the industry grows, so will its contribution to the overall economic outlook.

Unfortunately, while the U.S. has risen to become the global leader in bio-medicine, it’s in danger of losing its edge. The country’s share of global R&D investments, patents, science journals, science graduates and researchers have all declined in recent years.

As the Council for American Medical Innovation has noted, “Our leadership in medical innovation and the health benefits and economic growth that accrue because of it are at risk ... While many other nations are strategically investing to support medical innovation as an economic growth strategy, we have allowed our ecosystem for medical innovation to decline.”

Here are the steps lawmakers can take to reverse this worrisome trend and ensure that Illinois and the nation continue to lead the world in bio-pharmaceuticals.

First, Washington needs to improve the consistency and predictability of the Food and Drug Administration’s drug review process. These reforms would ensure it isn’t needlessly hampering the development of new bio-pharmaceutical treatments.

The federal government should maintain funding for the National Institutes of Health and support private biopharmaceutical investment by strengthening the federal R&D tax credit.

And lawmakers can ensure America has a steady supply of talent needed for research by improving the quality of science and math education at all levels.

Imagine if Illinois were the state where a cure for Alzheimer’s — or another devastating illness — was discovered. This can happen, but only if lawmakers encourage and support investment in biopharmaceutical research.

Todd Maisch is the vice president of government affairs at the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

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