By Andrew Spiegel
Executive Director
Global Colon Cancer Association

Congress will soon consider the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. When U.S. government officials negotiated the deal, they asked their Mexican and Canadian counterparts to lift their nations’ intellectual property standards for certain advanced drugs.

But some U.S. lawmakers are taking issue with this provision, claiming it will adversely impact U.S. drug prices. They’re wrong. USMCA will catalyze investment in medical research without affecting prices. If Congress wants to help patients, they’ll pass the trade deal as signed by the three countries.

The United States leads the world in medical innovation. American labs are responsible for more than half of all drugs developed worldwide. This includes more than 1,000 cancer treatments, 85 drugs to fight Alzheimer’s disease, and 550 that combat rare diseases.

Robust intellectual property protections encourage researchers to develop their products here. Thanks to our patent protections, firms pour billions of dollars into research and development projects in America each year.

U.S. patent law has encouraged the development of biologics — complex drugs made using living organisms. Biologics treat a number of conditions, including multiple sclerosis and cancer. Since 2004, the FDA has approved five biologics to treat colon cancer.

The United States offers 12 years of “regulatory data protection” for biologics. For the duration of that window, rival companies can’t manufacturer copycat versions of these drugs. That gives innovators a chance to recoup investment costs.

Many countries recognize the value of intellectual property protections. The entire European Union provides 10 years of regulatory data protection for biologics. Existing Canadian law only provides eight years. Mexico doesn’t offer anything. USMCA would require both countries to offer at least 10 years of protection, bringing them closer to the U.S. standard.

That’s great for patients. With scientific discoveries protected, more investors would pour money into the next generation of biologics.

Unfortunately, a handful of lawmakers want to eliminate USMCA’s section on biologics. This doesn’t make sense.

Extending regulatory data protections wouldn’t hurt patients — but reducing them certainly would. Drug development is risky. It takes billions of dollars — and up to 15 years — to take a drug from the lab to patients. Most drug research fails long before they hit shelves. Researchers pursue these projects in the hopes that a single successful drug will offset the cost of previous failures. Reducing these protections kills the incentive for innovation.

Since 1990, cancer death rates have plummeted by 26%, thanks in a large part to new drugs. But there’s more work to be done.

More than 145,000 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2019. Each year, colorectal cancer claims the lives of more than 51,000 patients in the United States.

Drug development is a matter of life and death. By safeguarding intellectual property, USMCA gives patients hope.

Andrew Spiegel is the executive director of the Global Colon Cancer Association.