Medical discovery a unique opportunity for U.S., Oregon economies (OPINION)

Despite the increasingly heated rhetoric on the campaign trail, America’s economy has significantly improved in recent years. In the past five years alone, U.S. businesses have created more than 14 million jobs, unemployment has reached its lowest level in seven years and, since 2009, the national deficit has decreased by nearly three-fourths.

In short, the U.S. is slowly recovering from the financial crisis.

However, in recent weeks, the interconnectedness of the global economy has reinforced one core principle: We can’t rely on central banks or any one particular region to provide a fresh wave of growth. We need to take a step back and evaluate and bolster existing bright spots, in whatever way possible. While the economy is improving, we are in need of an investment strategy that will propel the U.S. even further.

The U.S. spends nearly $3.1 trillion a year on health care — $1.6 trillion of which is spent treating patients with chronic diseases. Although these numbers are hard to swallow, it’s important to assess the measures needed to strengthen our health care infrastructure and economy. If we managed chronic diseases better through medical advances and adherence, the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease estimates we could save $6.3 trillion and 16 million lives in the next 15 years.

The urgency for medical discovery is higher than ever. The Zika virus (with cases in more than 20 Latin American countries and 20 American states) is a prime example of a disease where medical discovery, along with strong public and private leadership, can lead to a vaccine and save thousands of lives.

The road to breakthrough treatments and to developing a strong bioscience sector isn’t a straight shot, which is why we need the unconditional support of both the private and public sectors to lock in this unique and economically practical opportunity. The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation recently released a report, “Why Life-Sciences Innovation Is Politically ‘Purple’ — and How Partisans Get It Wrong,” emphasizing the complementary and key roles the private and public industries play in developing new breakthroughs.

The necessity of having a strong bioscience market can be seen clearly in several states, especially in Oregon. This month, the Oregon Bioscience Association released an economic impact study showing how a healthy life sciences industry greatly contributes to an increase in employment and economic growth. The results are astounding.

In 2014, private bioscience companies employed nearly 14,000 workers and paid over $970 million in wages in Oregon. According to the Oregon Employment Department data, the average annual wage in private bioscience is more than 50 percent greater than the statewide average, $70,367 to $45,893, respectively. The study also found that private bioscience touches almost every county in Oregon, with 49 percent of companies located outside Portland. These statistics and findings are testimony to the fact that public and private bioscience companies play an increasingly important role in state economies and shouldn’t be ignored.

We live in a nation that prides itself on taking chances and building bridges to advance our position and improve lives. Oregonians are lucky to live in a state that supports research and development investment and the bioscience industry.

Continuing to make medical discovery a national and state priority will yield more clinical trials, research and subsequently boost our economy. More importantly this is a step we need to take to stop a growing crisis — the need for a healthier society and good paying jobs.


May 04, 2016
Gary Locke
The Oregonian

Former Washington Gov. Gary Locke served as U.S. secretary of commerce from 2009 to 2011 and U.S. ambassador to China from 2011 to 2014.

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