Post-COVID innovation: How U.S. medtech can capitalize on this moment

by Jeff Mirviss, President, Peripheral Interventions at Boston Scientific

Note: This blog post first appeared in the Star Tribune

Medical Alley is the Silicon Valley of American healthcare. Our region is home to the world’s leading health technology cluster, the highest-ranking hospital, more than 1,000 healthcare companies and 500,000 employees who are transforming the future of healthcare in the U.S. and around the world.  We’re also continually investing in high risk and potentially high reward solutions to the world’s most difficult public health problems like cancer, heart disease and diabetes.   

Fueled by billions of its own dollars, the medical technology industry’s successes are built on a willingness to invest with a long-term horizon. Some of our bets may never pay off, but our successes have the potential to transform millions of lives.

Not everything we invest in will become a life-saving advancement. Regardless of how much promise a novel treatment has at the outset, failures can occur at any point—from concept to clinical trials to manufacturing to commercialization.

Solving public health crises requires us to take those risks.

Patients cannot benefit from bets we don’t make. And failures for one purpose can lead to breakthroughs in others, so all our research—whether or not it becomes a commercial success—has the potential to help advance medical care.

COVID-19 proved what’s possible when industry and government take common aim at public health challenges and prioritize smart risk-taking. Enormous capital investment, along with the scientific community’s access to discoveries based on years of past research, allowed the development and safe deployment of vaccines at record speed.

Just as the vaccine shows what smart government policies can enable, we’ve also seen how even well-intentioned policies can become roadblocks to progress. Before its bipartisan repeal in 2019, the 2.3% Medical Device Tax cost our industry nearly 30,000 American jobs and millions of dollars in halted R&D investments during the three years it was enforced.

We know we can accelerate momentum in medical innovation by maintaining incentives for the long-term R&D needed to solve critical public health issues. Unfortunately, certain tax policies being considered by Congress today would limit our industry’s ability to make long-term investments in R&D and job growth.

A few years ago, my company acquired a British firm. Their portfolio included a less-invasive, highly effective treatment for the most common form of liver cancer—an advancement that began as a nuclear supply company’s side project nearly two decades ago, and had been available only on a limited, experimental basis in the U.S.

A few months ago, we received FDA approval for that therapy, making it more widely available to American liver cancer patients who can now benefit. How? We made significant investments in clinical data to demonstrate the patient benefits behind a new technology project. Now we’re exploring ways to use it as a platform to treat other cancers like brain cancer. And as part of a collaboration with the Mayo Clinic, we are exploring a novel cancer treatment that would use another established technology in entirely new ways.

Stories like these aren’t unique to our company; similar examples can be found across the industry. In every case, the implications for treatment could be transformational—but they take years of research and testing to prove safety and effectiveness.

As an industry that funds R&D directly with its own profits, increased corporate taxes would reduce our ability to fund that high-risk, high-reward work. If the corporate tax hikes being discussed in Congress are enacted, the first R&D investments likely to be cut across the industry are the very “long shot” explorations that could have a profound impact on some of the world’s toughest health challenges—and ultimately take significant costs out of the current healthcare system.

Tax policies should encourage, not impede, these investments and the medical advances they will generate. 

America’s ability to compete and produce medical solutions must remain a national priority long after we emerge from COVID-19. This pandemic will come to an end, but the pace of innovation it has unleashed must continue. If we are to address the myriad of health challenges impacting people across the world, we need to encourage medical progress to move even faster and avoid enacting policies that limit our ability to invest where it’s needed most.