Biotech CEOs respond to Sanders attack: science, not politics, will defeat the pandemic

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Biopharma executives rebuked Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for attacking them and the biopharmaceutical industry Sunday evening during a debate with former Vice President Joe Biden. Science, not politics, will defeat COVID-19, industry leaders told BioCentury.

Sanders slammed drug companies, saying they are run by “crooks” who are seeking to profit from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Defending his call for a government-run single-payer healthcare system, Sanders said the pandemic is exposing cracks in the healthcare system that can be fixed with his Medicare for All proposal.

“How come people can’t afford to get the prescription drugs they need because we have a bunch of crooks who are running the pharmaceutical industry, ripping us off every single day?,” Sanders asked.

He added: “In the midst of this epidemic, you got people in the pharmaceutical industry who are saying, oh, wow, what an opportunity to make a fortune.”

“We need science and innovation to fight this disease, not politics!”

John Maraganore, Alnylam

Jeremy Levin, chairman of BIO, called for Sanders to focus on the shared mission of overcoming the crisis rather than scoring political points.

“The biotech, diagnostics and pharma industry have stepped forward voluntarily to commit resources to accelerate diagnostics, test new therapeutics and discover new vaccines to combat Covid-19,” Levin told BioCentury.

“It is sad that at this time the very industry that will deliver a solution is being attacked by Senator Sanders,” said Levin, who also is CEO of Ovid Therapeutics Inc. (NASDAQ:OVID). “The biopharmaceutical industry stepped forward, unasked. We will continue doing what we do best -- find new therapeutics to solve this crisis. Let’s all focus on this mission and not politics.”

Ron Cohen, president and CEO of Acorda Therapeutics, Inc. (NASDAQ:ACOR), said the leadership that will provide solutions to the public health crisis “is coming largely not from government but from our private sector, and specifically from the biopharma industry, which has mobilized to massively increase our testing capacity, and put drugs and vaccines into clinical trials incredibly quickly.”

Cohen, a past BIO chairman, added that Sanders has done nothing to guide America through the crisis “other than to shoot his inflexible ideological arrows at the many good people who are actually trying to make a positive difference. They have not asked for financial reward or benefit. They are simply doing the right thing, with the unique knowledge and talents that they have to help us deal with this crisis.”

John Maraganore, CEO of Alnylam Pharmaceutics Inc. (NASDAQ:ALNY) said the “biopharma industry is a critical part of our global fight against the pandemic.” Maraganore, immediate past-chairman of BIO, told BioCentury: “We need science and innovation to fight this disease, not politics!”

Biopharma executives and investors posted passionate defenses of the industry on Twitter. Arch Venture Partners’ Robert Nelsen tweeted that the “‘crooks’ running pharmaceutical and biotechs are working 24/7 trying to save your life and of the rest of the citizens of the world from COVID19. You are pathetic and have no knowledge at all of how the world actually works.”

Biopharmaceutical companies in the U.S. and around the world have invested massively in the development of diagnostics, the search for drugs that can be repurposed, and in new therapies and vaccines to treat and prevent COVID-19. BioCentury has compiled lists of new therapies and vaccines under development, a timetable of almost 30 repurposed drugs that are being studied (see “COVID-19: A Growing List of New Vaccines and Therapies in Development”; “First Up for COVID-19: Nearly 30 Clinical Readouts Before End of April”).

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