Patent News

Apr. 19, 2015

The Des Moines Register Op-Ed: Washington has the wrong treatment for Iowa biotech, by Tom Swegle

This post originally appeared in The Des Moines Register on April 19, 2015.

Tom Swegle is CEO of MedCara Pharmaceuticals of Conrad, which focuses on dermatological products.

By the time Lorna Johns was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, she had already survived a devastating bout with breast cancer. Nevertheless, Lorna and her husband remained positive.

“We had gotten through it once before,” she said, “and I knew we would do it again.” Her treatment soon proved ineffective, however. And so, determined to beat Lorna’s illness, the Des Moines couple turned to clinical trials for a new, experimental treatment.

The medicine worked. The Johnses recently celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary — cancer-free. Lorna is one of many Iowans who owe their health to the state’s innovative biotechnology sector. But the medicines conceived and developed here don’t just save lives; they also strengthen Iowa’s economy.

Few other industries offer such wide-ranging benefits. Which is why new federal policies that weaken Iowa’s life sciences sector pose such a serious threat. By rejecting these proposals, our representatives in Washington can do their part to protect this vital industry, as well as the patients and workers who depend on it.

Iowa has recently emerged as a hub of medical innovation. Over the past 15 years, state biotech firms have conducted nearly 1,300 clinical trials for advanced medications. More than half of these treatments targeted the six most debilitating illnesses in America, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes.


Despite the success of Iowa’s biotech sector, several federal policies have called the industry’s future into question. In particular, changes to patent laws and the Medicare drug benefit could deter investment in biotech research.

To understand why these proposals pose a threat to biotech, it’s important to recognize that medical innovation doesn’t come cheap. According to a new study from Tufts University, biopharmaceutical companies spend an average of $2.56 billion developing each new drug — more than double previous estimates.

What makes biotech a worthwhile investment is the potential to recoup these considerable expenses through sales of groundbreaking drugs. Patent protections, which give a firm the exclusive right to sell its invention for a set number of years, are critical for giving biotech companies a fair chance to earn back those expenses.

Unfortunately, several large corporations are lobbying to make it much harder for patent-holders to sue violators. Though targeted at frivolous lawsuits, this misguided proposal would make it harder for biotech companies to defend their innovations in court. Weaker patent protections give biotech firms less incentive to invest in tomorrow’s life-saving drugs.