Saturday, May 15, 2021
May 15, 2021

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Local View: Data protection must be part of trade pact

The Columbian

Officials from the United States and 11 other nations recently met in Vietnam to continue negotiations on what could be the largest trade agreement in history: The Trans-Pacific Partnership.

A successful TPP could have huge consequences for the Evergreen State. As U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman explained during a trip to Seattle, TPP stands to benefit Washington more than any other state.

Specifically, TPP is key to protecting one of the most important aspects of our state’s economic viability: Intellectual property rights. More than in any previous trade negotiation, the United States is pushing to strengthen intellectual property provisions to benefit many of our state’s industries, including our biotechnology sector. For Washington to reap the rewards of TPP, America’s trade officials must make sure our most innovative businesses get the IP protections they need to thrive.

TPP would reduce trade barriers between the U.S. and nations throughout the Pacific Rim. By opening up new markets to U.S. goods and services, the agreement could deliver a jolt to American businesses, especially in Washington. As Froman explained, “hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians owe their jobs to exports . . . and being a gateway to the Asia Pacific, with all the ports here, it stands to benefit significantly from TPP.”

Indeed, trade supports more than 1 million Washington jobs. Since 2004, the number of trade-related jobs in our state has grown more than three times faster than overall employment. By reducing trade barriers, TPP could add even more momentum to our state’s export economy.

One vital aspect of TPP negotiations is discussions around securing sensible “data protection” rules for biopharmaceutical firms. Data protection, a form of IP rights extended to inventors of biopharmaceuticals, is particularly important for “biologic” medicines. These sophisticated pharmaceuticals, which are made from living organisms, treat illnesses ranging from HIV/AIDS to rheumatoid arthritis.

They are also incredibly time-consuming — and expensive — to create. Bringing a single biologic to market often costs a pharmaceutical company more than $1 billion, and it often takes more than a decade for a new biologic to become widely available. The cancer treatment Avastin, for instance, discovered in 1989, didn’t gain approval from the Food and Drug Administration until 2004.

Part of what makes this costly process economically feasible are the 12 years of data protection firms receive once a drug is released. During this period, competitors can’t use the innovator company’s research to create knockoff biologics. As a result, the firm responsible for the new biologic may recoup its investment.

If biotech innovators don’t enjoy the same data protections in TPP countries as in the United States, few companies may take on the risk of developing new biologics, impeding medical research.

This would be bad news for Washington and its critical life sciences sector. Between 2007 and 2012, state bioscience employment grew by 10 percent and currently supports 91,000 jobs, contributing more than $11 billion annually to the state economy.

The success of Washington’s bioscience sector flows from its ability to generate breakthrough treatments. Since 1999, our state has been home to more than 3,600 clinical trials for new medicines, many of them biologics. For instance, Bothell-based Seattle Genetics recently released a remarkable new biologic treatment for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Allozyne in Seattle is currently working on a long-lasting biopharmaceutical therapy for multiple sclerosis patients.

For a TPP agreement to be most beneficial to Washington state, it must include strong data exclusivity provisions that encourage research and innovation.

Federal lawmakers from both parties and 11 governors have urged the Obama Administration to fight for strong IP protections in TPP. America’s trade officials need to make clear that strong, clear rules for data protection is non-negotiable. Such a provision is vital for both America and Washington.

Eric Schinfeld is the president of the Washington Council on International Trade.