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Editor’s Commentary

Truth and facts matter. Say it out loud: Editor’s Commentary

Biopharmas have a responsibility to raise their voices to restore faith in facts, truth and science, writes Editor in Chief Simone Fishburn

Biopharmas have an extra responsibility to restore faith in facts, truth and science, writes Editor in Chief Simone Fishburn.

January 11, 2021 8:07 PM GMT

First they came for the climate scientists, and I did not speak out because I wasn’t a climate scientist. Then they came for the mask-wearers, and I did not speak out because I was working on a vaccine. Then they came to ransack the Capitol.

The soul-searching of all Americans about what led to the Jan. 6 events brings a special responsibility to scientists, notably biomedical scientists and the biopharma industry, whose bedrock is adherence to evidence-based facts in the name of saving lives. Citizens and scientists in other countries should take heed too.

This special responsibility requires anyone who builds their life, their business, their career around the quest to use science to treat and prevent disease to speak out and counter the forces that denigrate the value of standards of evidence upon which people can agree, regardless of where their political affiliations lie or how they would implement the evidence to create policy.

At the same time as 2020 was a high-water mark for the biopharma industry in creating vaccines for COVID-19 in record time, and receiving recognition for that, it was a nadir, one hopes, in the value of truth and facts among the U.S. population.

Now the industry must use its newly enhanced reputation to act as standard-bearers for the truth: truth in science, truth in a pandemic, truth in politics.

A direct line

There is a direct line from climate change denial to diminishing COVID-19 dangers to mask defiance to rejecting election results to blocking the democratic process and the peaceful transfer of power.

Those who rolled their eyes at mentions of the “assault on truth” in the past four years should take a long, hard look in the mirror.

The Trump presidency has been an unceasing battering of the truth, with the phrase “alternative facts” entering the lexicon, and leaders, including scientific leaders, laying low in order not to rock the boat, as President Donald Trump and his adherents questioned the validity of well-established scientific principles.

In the first two years of Trump’s presidency, the industry benefited from modernization of regulatory policy under Scott Gottlieb’s leadership at FDA, while at the same time, climate scientists were being rubbished by the administration, even in the face of mounting evidence of extreme weather disasters ravaging cities and towns.

When the pandemic hit, biopharmas rushed into action to create countermeasures. But they didn’t speak out when Trump pronounced that COVID-19 would go away in a few days or dismissed the usefulness of masks.

The litany of disinformation last year and the intrusion of politics into science — the emergency use authorization of hydroxychloroquine, the embarrassing postulation about bleach as a cure, the attempt to whitewash data on case numbers, to name a few — have not only damaged science, but debased FDA and CDC, previously two of the most revered public health bodies in the world.

The cost has gone from more than 370,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. to shaking the foundations of democracy.

A responsibility and an opportunity

Where does one go from here?

BIO has spoken out against politically motivated attacks on science, and on the need for industry and regulators to hew to norms and resist political influence in scientific decisions.

This is a start, but not enough. Relying on trade organizations to make announcements dilutes the impact that broad and numerous statements on policies, actions and commitments can have.

Captains of industry — pharma and biotech CEOs, investors, regulatory leaders — should use their voice and their influence in plain light and behind closed doors to oppose the devaluing of science and facts, whether the attack is on their house or someone else’s.

What’s been lost in the public conversation is how to determine fact from fiction. Once the facts are in place, there can and should be differences on how to act on them or what policies to create. This is the realm where political differences should lie.

Evaluating evidence and agreeing on the facts is the bread and butter of every biopharma company, regulator and investor. There is an opportunity to educate the public about how this process works, and how to build a framework for evidence on which people can agree.

Last week, Albert Bourla, chairman and CEO of Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE), joined other business leaders in the Partnership for New York City in a Jan. 4 statement by calling on Congress to accept the Electoral College results.

On Sunday, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association said it is suspending political contributions to members of Congress who objected to the Electoral College count.

More must follow. Truth must be told, about disease, about vaccines and about elections.

Biopharmas should take the chance to be the flag-bearers for this movement.

Signed commentaries do not necessarily reflect the views of BioCentury.

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