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MIT forum to seek global drug pricing solutions

With issues such as drug reimportation and affordable access to life-saving medicines reaching the political stage, a cross-section of industry, academic, legal and international regulatory experts will meet at the MIT Sloan School of Management on Aug. 12 to respond to the challenge posed in the forum's title: Global Drug Pricing and Sustainable Medical Innovation: Can They Coexist?

"Rather than keep whining about the problem, we want to come up with a menu of solutions," said forum participant and AVANT Immunotherapeutics, Inc. president and CEO Una Ryan, who also chairs the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MBC). "We are bringing together an unusually broad slate of speakers. We need a continuing dialogue."

At the core of the forum's agenda is the need to bridge two dueling realities: The research, development and testing of new medicines requires companies to invest enormous sums that they must recover to survive, but the resulting prices are often too steep for people in many nations where the new drugs can mean the difference between life and death. While additional units of a particular drug can be manufactured at comparatively low cost, successful firms must be able to recoup the often large upfront investments required to get to that manufacturing stage, if they are to continue innovating in the future. Another challenge to equitable drug pricing is the large number of diverse insurance and reimbursement systems in countries around the globe.

The forum is co-sponsored by MIT, MBC, Mass Development, and the Biotechnology Industry Organization. In addition to Ryan, speakers will include Mark McClellan, former head of the FDA and current administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at the Department of Health and Human Services, who will address the event via videotape; Judy Lewent, executive vice president and CFO of Merck; Professor Patricia Danzon of the Wharton School; Ernst Berndt, professor of applied economics at the Sloan School; Jonathan Quick, CEO of Management Sciences for Health, Inc.

"MIT has a long tradition of bringing together science, engineering and management," said Sloan Dean Richard Schmalensee. "The issues being raised at this forum require the best thinking available from all three of these areas. It is enormously important that we find answers that work for all parties, from company investors to people in villages across the globe." Schmalensee noted that MIT is actively seeking answers on several fronts, including a newly launched program called Leading Innovative Enterprises, an intensive general management program for executives and others in the life sciences industry.

The issue of global access to affordable drugs has become a hot topic. "But what's been lacking is a rational, public discussion about what we can do to price these products to cover up-front costs while making them accessible to the whole world," said Berndt. "This issue is going to stick around."

In a move related to the forum, MIT and MBC are launching an in-depth study of the life sciences industry in Massachusetts, examining its economic impact and growth by analyzing the innovative public and private companies, investors, academic institutions, hospitals, service companies and other entities that serve the life sciences industry. Tracking these organizations along a broad array of metrics, the study will illustrate how Massachusetts earned its reputation as one of the world's foremost biotech clusters.

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