It’s been a season of discontent over political plans for drug pricing, health care, and the biopharma industry.
The Wall Street Journal, in one of many editorials on Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s proposals as part of her presidential campaign – titled Warren Has a (Fantasy) Plan – wrote:
“… she is sticking to her plan for a government takeover of American health care, including the elimination of private insurance that 170 million or so Americans now have. She continues to claim that this will cost ‘not one penny in middle-class tax increases.’ She walks on water too.”
The Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) recently felt compelled to send a letter to the Trump Administration’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) regarding expanding the authority under last year’s Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act of 2018 (FIRRMA). BIO wrote the proposed rules “have the potential to adversely affect the U.S. biotechnology industry far beyond what is necessary to address legitimate national security concerns.”
John McManus President and Founder, The McManus Group, recently wrote in Life Science Leader that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s “sweeping bill (H.R.3)” to regulate prescription drug prices in Medicare and for all commercial insurers, may actually be “deemed unconstitutional.”
I expected a similar vein when I spoke to Ed Price, President and CEO, SEQENS N.A., just after his testimony to a subcommittee of the U.S. Congressional Committee on Energy and Commerce, entitled Safeguarding Pharmaceutical Supply Chains in a Global Economy. Price, as a member of the board of governors of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates (SOCMA), was representing U.S.-based CDMOs at the hearing.
Instead, in our post-D.C. conversation, Price was mostly displeased with his home-state Senator, Elizabeth Warren, regarding her stance on school education.
Nearly every U.S. industry faces challenges hiring skilled workers.
Is this, though, becoming more acute in drug development and manufacturing? I’ve addressed this starting with editorials such as these from back in 2015: Are There Enough Biomanufacturing Workers In The U.S.?; Who Wants To Work At A CMO Anyways?
Here’s what I specifically asked Price:
“Why during your testimony did you focus on your disagreement with limiting of H-1B visas – temporary business visas to the U.S – and not more on what might be considered a root cause of the need for those visas: U.S. schools not turning out the students needed to fill the jobs you have openings for?”
“You are correct about the focus on visas and our own education system’s failings,” Price tells me.
“Here in Massachusetts,” he continues, “we have a robust life-science industry, employing what I would describe as a relatively modest number of people who receive very high wages. Unfortunately, a kid who grows up in many of our state’s urban school districts – for example in the city of Lawrence, Massachusetts, located near us – who could work in our facilities, can’t even graduate from high school.”
The reason, Price says, is the state’s urban high schools are not living up to educational expectations.
“Politicians on the left, quite frankly, refuse to take some simple, helpful actions, such as raising the number of charter schools that can be formed,” he laments.
“Elizabeth Warren, other progressive activists, and the teachers unions won’t allow the state legislature to expand charter schools.”
Of course there are complicated social, cultural, economic and political reasons for the challenges the U.S. is experiencing in its schools. But Price sees charter schools as a relatively “easy” step to ameliorate some of the challenges.
“Charter schools have proven over and over again to improve educational outcomes as compared to the public option in inner cities,” he says. “I believe this is the starting point to why we, and so many other high tech businesses, cannot get more workers.”
In Price’s October testimony to the subcommittee in D.C., he told lawmakers if the government wanted to safeguard the pharmaceutical supply in the U.S., and promote U.S. industry, education was one of three dynamics needing change.
Politicians, he told the committee, must rethink how they deal with our school systems.
“Public education isn’t working overall – specifically not in the cities,” he says, and thus:
“I simply can’t find enough people to staff my facility and grow my business. Eighty percent of my technical staff is foreign born – that’s out of necessity.
“So we have this: It’s easier and faster for me to employ more workers from overseas than fight the government to improve things here in my own state and country. I have no choice but to focus on speaking out for more visas.”
Price mentions a ballot initiative in Massachusetts to increase the number of charter schools in the state.
“Both the Republican governor of Massachusetts and the Democratic speaker of the house of Massachusetts came out in favor of the ballot initiative. Senator Warren fought hard against the initiative.”
As we discussed in our first part with Price, U.S.-based API manufacturers are at some disadvantages vis-à-vis offshore manufacturers. He doesn’t want our education system to add to those.
According to Price, there are nearly 30,000 mostly urban and minority children in Massachusetts – and who he hopes could someday become our industry’s employees – on waiting lists to get into charters schools.
(For the record, Warren has publically called for a total ban of charter schools, and ending all federal funding.)
I remind Price that Senator Warren insists the problem is public schools need more funding – and teacher salaries are a big part of where additional money should go. Public schools, she says, are underperforming because they are underfunded.
“Teachers in Boston, for example, are among the top five highest paid in the entire country,” he says. “Yet only about seventy percent of the kids in Boston graduate from high school.
“In other words, nearly a third of urban school kids don’t graduate, as compared to better than ninety-eight percent in most suburban districts. Kids are being left behind, and we are losing out on the next generation of workers.
“There’s no shortage of money,” he adds.
There is, though, of potential local workers.
“It’s a real struggle to find people to staff my facility and grow my business,” Price concludes. “I still think we should increase visas for skilled foreign workers. But I have ten openings right now that I’m looking to fill. It would be nice to fill them locally.”
We’ve learned throughout 2019 that our drug development and manufacturing outsourcing industry can no longer ignore developing and challenging social, political, and economic narratives – they impact us more than ever before, and more directly.
Today we’re required to take a stand, to speak out. Thanks to Price for doing his part.