Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has summoned Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel to Capitol Hill for a public chastising next week. The hearing will probe why the biotech firm would consider raising the price of its COVID-19 vaccine.
Since the federal government played some role in the vaccine's development, Sen. Sanders argues, it shouldn't have the freedom to price its product at a price willing buyers will pay if that price strikes the Vermont senator as too high.
We should expect nothing less from the Senate's only avowed socialist. But Sanders's stance actually puts lives at risk and could set drug innovation back irreparably.
That Sanders would single out Moderna in this way is telling. Rarely has there been a more shining example of how market forces and entrepreneurship can move medical science forward — and at remarkable speed.
Moderna, recall, was among the first companies to develop a successful vaccine for COVID-19. The firm identified its candidate vaccine just 42 days after the coronavirus's genetic sequence became available.
Within one year, it was shipping vaccines — a feat previously considered impossible.
It's indisputable that the federal government helped fund Moderna's work in order to accelerate the development process.
But the mRNA technology behind the vaccine had been years in the making. That work was the result of enormous private-sector risk-taking over the course of more than a decade.
For years, investors devoted billions of dollars to transforming Moderna's basic science into a practical medicine. And they did so with no assurance those investments would pay off.
Had the private investors, researchers, and entrepreneurs behind Moderna not taken such big chances over the course of so many years, the company would never have been in a position to respond so quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic.
What made those investments worthwhile was the possibility that a successful mRNA product would yield sufficient revenue to cover its early costs, and even turn a profit.
And the company's freedom to set its own prices — and even raise those prices if necessary — is part of that process.
Just as crucial are the intellectual property protections that provide inventors the exclusive rights to their creations for a set period of time.
Without these protections — which include patents — there would be little sense in spending years and billions of dollars bringing the technology to market, as a competing firm could simply copy the original idea and sell it at a lower price.
Moderna traces its origin to federally funded research by scientists at Boston Children's Hospital and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Patents based on that research led to the creation of the company, which soon began developing new technologies that built upon those initial insights.
That work eventually led to Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine.
This is precisely how the drug market is supposed to work.
In fact, the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 created a pathway for commercializing federally funded research. Successes like Moderna are what those lawmakers had in mind.
Yet for Sanders, Moderna's success is evidence of something rotten in the state of biotech.
Our health system needs more companies like Moderna.
To that end, lawmakers should be doing their best to encourage the kind of risk-taking that gave us COVID-19 vaccines record time.
Sadly, by browbeating the firm for doing its job especially well — and for attempting to reap the hard-earned benefits of that success — Sanders is sending a signal to future innovators that betting big on life-saving medical research isn't worth the trouble.
Sally C. Pipes is president, CEO, and the Thomas W. Smith fellow in healthcare policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is "False Premise, False Promise: The Disastrous Reality of Medicare for All," (Encounter Books 2020). Follow her on Twitter @sallypipes. Read Sally Pipes' Reports — More Here.
© 2023 Newsmax. All rights reserved.