Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What a Difference a (non-alcoholic) Beer Makes

Sorry - Late again. It's snowboarding season. What can I say?

I attended a great event a few weeks ago put on by the Boston Irish Business Association  and hosted at Caturano, called “Biotech 2010 and Beyond,” and featuring MassBio President and CEO, Bob Coughlin. As an amateur chef, I was particularly pleased to have Caturano as the venue. A key employee benefit there is the full-service kitchen on premises. The evening of the event, Richie Caturano’s daughter was hard at work in the kitchen serving up delicious appetizers, and I was fortunate to get a tour of the kitchen (every now and then, they even get local celebrity chefs to come in and run the kitchen). But enough about food (not that I ever really get enough about food, but this isn’t a food blog).

The event was well attended and well organized. While there were plenty of beverages at the bar, Bob was completely abstinent. You never would have known it. It was a great pleasure to see Bob loosen up and speak very frankly about MassBio and the state of the industry on the heels of JP Morgan the prior month. Without re-hashing the entire preso, Bob was upbeat about what’s coming down the pike. Certainly, some of his enthusiasm comes from the passion associated with having a child with a medical condition that will only be addressed by the efforts of the biotech industry. Some is just Bob – an energetic, passionate leader.

What I was most impressed with, and frankly a bit surprised by, was his candor when I asked him what he saw as the biggest threat to the growth of the industry. The question wasn’t even out of my mouth and Bob dove on it. “Healthcare reform” was his immediate response.

Now, I promised to keep this blog apolitical, but I have to say that I agree with Bob. In my mind, the issue is to develop a system that provides access to reasonable basic healthcare. In this country, there will always be people who have the means to, and who are willing to pay a premium for, the top of the line. That’s why we have Toyota and Mercedes. We have somehow moved to a society where free, best-in-class healthcare has become an unalienable right. I’m not uncompassionate. Everyone should have access to reasonable care. But we seem to keep forgetting that it comes with a price, both in terms of dollars and in terms of expectations. In countries with universal healthcare, a 70 year old in end stage renal failure is told to make preparations. In this country, that person is sustained, and assuming there is a donor, given a transplant. All at outrageous cost.

Once again, I don’t claim to have the answer, but I do know this: The United States leads the world in biotech and pharma R&D. There’s a reason that Novartis chose to locate their global pharmaceutical R&D headquarters in Cambridge, MA. A proposal for universal healthcare that impedes the world’s best engine for drug innovation will seriously undermine not only our global competitiveness, but will also result in poorer healthcare overall.

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