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A Call to (Ph)arms?

REDWOOD CITY, Calif., Jan. 23 - Now is the time for the biotech community to come to the aid of their country, said Michael Friedman, chief medical officer for biomedical preparedness at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.


He also called on the entire biotech community to rally against infectious diseases-which he says now leads other diseases in priority-and for the government to set clear IP initiatives.


"There's a special opportunity that exists for virtually everybody who works in biomedical sciences," Friedman told some 340 venture capitalists and CEOs at the Healthcare Outlook conference here "[The opportunity is called] scientific patriotism."


"This is a moment when our destiny is to do national service," said Friedman. "Just as other generations have had the opportunity, we have that opportunity."


To be sure, his strongly worded address, the keynote of the meeting, also referenced the home-front effort during World War II, pitched for greater support of the so-called war on terrorism, but offered little in the way of specifics.


"This country has been challenged in a novel and fundamental way," said Friedman, who served as FDA Acting Commissioner from 1997 to 1998. "The development of medical products is the premier place where the US stands on the world stage. We have been challenged where the US has preeminence.


"A lot has changed in this post anthrax era," he said. "This is not a matter of choice. [It is] part of the obligations of being a citizen."


Since the events of Sept. 11 and the subsequent anthrax exposures, infectious disease has taken on a higher priority for R&D efforts, according to Friedman. Prior to that, neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's were more highly emphasized, he said. "That balance has changed fundamentally," said Friedman. "Suddenly infectious disease is more proximal, of greater concern."


Civilians as well the military should have access to various vaccines, including one for anthrax, said Friedman. He said pharmaceutical companies have met with government officials "to offer them our commitment to do whatever is necessary for as long as is necessary."


Obstacles to full cooperative efforts do exist, he said, including liability, antitrust and IP issues.


While biotech and pharma have the means to research and develop vaccines, it should be the role of government to make the decisions about who should receive them, according to Friedman. "Our responsibility is to give them the weapons [vaccines]. [The government] can decide when and where to pull the trigger."

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