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Pandemic Lessons: Move drug manufacturing from China back to the US

Written By | Apr 12, 2020
China, Drug Manufacturing, Pharmaceuticals, Cancer, T-Cell Therapies

WASHINGTON: There is one clear lesson to be learned from the Coronavirus pandemic.  Critical medication and future cancer treatments, mostly discovered in America, must be produced here in the US. American pharmaceutical manufacturing must be done in the US, and not in China.

Since at least the end of World War II, the country that has kept its people the most healthy has been the United States. America has driven health breakthroughs that have made us the healthiest, wealthiest, longest-living society ever.

But that could change. And the Chinese are trying to get the jump on us.

Look at what is happening right now with the efforts to import masks and gowns from China to help protect doctors from the coronavirus.

Chinese drug manufacturers are not subject to strict FDA compliance procedures.

Chinese drugmakers are also racing to find a way to produce a drug to protect from infection and to treat the symptoms of the virus.  The problem is that with these efforts to find the drug to fight the coronavirus, the Chinese cut corners and don’t do as much testing as we do here in the U.S. We need to win the race to cure cancer with thoroughly tested treatments from American scientists.

For decades, the war on cancer basically involved harming the patient in order to heal the patient.

Doctors use chemotherapy to poison cancer. They use radiation to shrink tumors. Doctors operate and try to cut the cancer cells out. All of these options inflicting harm on the patient, but also giving the patient a chance to survive the cancerous attack.

China’s mouthpiece: America’s fake-news media blames the US first

Breakthroughs over the years involved narrowing the beam of radiation, focusing the chemo, and honing the surgery through the use of robotics. But, because of the side effects, the process was still bad for the patient. In the future, however, doctors will concentrate on using the power of a patient’s own immune system to destroy cancer.

There won’t be any damage to the patient, because it will be his or her own body that is ridding itself of malignant cells.

In fact, this dream treatment is already a reality in many places.

Doctors are using chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy (CAR T-cell therapy) to treat patients.  (CAR T Cells: Engineering Patients’ Immune Cells to Treat Their Cancers)

T-Cell therapies essentially tricks the patient’s body to believe that the cancer cells are invaders. This type of treatment hasn’t been previously possible, because cancer cells are actually our own cells. Cells that have somehow malfunctioned.

Our healthy immune system doesn’t target those malfunctioning cells until it is too late. By turning a person’s own immune system against cancer, patients can be treated without inflicting harm on their healthy cells.

New treatments should quickly be covered by all insurance, including medicare.

Unfortunately, CAR T-cell therapy isn’t as widely available as it could or should be, because it isn’t yet covered by Medicare in many places. That is a problem that the Trump Administration can, and must, address as quickly as possible.

“The current doctor and hospital reimbursement process for CAR-T Medicare patients is broken,” retired Senator Tom Coburn warned earlier this year. “These inadequate reimbursements not only create access barriers for patients, but also a disparity between commercial and Medicare cancer patients, and between patients from urban and rural areas.”

Senator Coburn (March 14, 1948 – March 28, 2020) is recognized for his fight against government waste. In addition to serving his country in Congress, Coburn was a medical doctor and a cancer patient. So there’s no better source for wisdom on this topic. Unfortunately, the new treatment arrived too late for the senator.  He lost a long battle with cancer in March.

Still, his warnings to the White House about expanding Medicare coverage can help save lives, and add to his already extensive legacy.

Finally, there’s a foreign policy component to drug manufacturing here.

Chinese scientists are racing in an attempt to develop CAR-T therapies. As is often the case, they are looking for shortcuts that could make testing easier even if they end up endangering patients.

News service, Axios reported last year,

“While American and European companies take two to three weeks to engineer each patient’s CAR-T therapy, Chinese startup Gracell Biotechnology makes theirs overnight.”

That pace could cause scientists to make mistakes that endanger patients.

Still, by cutting corners in drug manufacturing and development, the Chinese may be able to get a cheaper treatment to market.(Pharmaceutical industry in China)

Of course, the best way to bring prices down is by making the treatment more widely available. As anyone who’s purchased a TV in recent years knows, prices for high-technology items come down quickly as the products are widely adopted.

The ball is in the Trump Administration’s court.

It must be willing to invest in a solution that rewards those who provide this innovative cancer care. Until Medicare expands coverage, Americans remain at risk.

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Michael Busler

Michael Busler, Ph.D. is a public policy analyst and a Professor of Finance at Stockton University where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Finance and Economics. He has written Op-ed columns in major newspapers for more than 35 years.