By Katrina Rogers
Spokane’s thriving life science innovation cluster is built on a foundation of collaboration between key stakeholders who have worked together to overcome barriers, access new market opportunities, attract workforce talent, and drive capital investment into the Inland Northwest. The federal government has been an essential partner in this equation, and many of the resources our local bioscience community leverages to bring discoveries to market have a nexus with national resources and support. So as the dust settles from the election and the new Congress takes shape in Washington, D.C., our state is well-positioned with leaders who understand the needs of the life science industry in Washington state and will hold key leadership positions that can help catalyze its future development.
Our own congresswoman, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, will become the chair of the powerful House Energy & Commerce Committee – a key House committee with jurisdiction over health care matters. She has already played an active role in the passage of several landmark healthcare measures, such as the 21st Century Cures Act to support the National Institutes of Health and the ABLE Act to help those with disabilities.
More recently, McMorris Rodgers helped engineer the enactment of critical legislation to continue the pipeline of new health care innovation by reauthorizing the budget authority for the Food and Drug Administration. She was a key leader in the House this year helping to negotiate the passage of the bipartisan FDA User Fee Reauthorization Act of 2022. This package of funding must be reauthorized by Congress every five years to ensure the FDA has the capacity and workforce talent to streamline processes and improve performance, ensuring the next generation of therapeutics and medical devices are safe, efficacious and available promptly for patients across the US. Unfortunately, the stakes were high over the last few months as a funding lapse would have doubled the review time for new drug and medical device applications almost overnight – causing serious and detrimental ripple effects throughout our local economy. Fortunately, with the congresswoman’s leadership, and strong partnership from her colleague Sen. Patty Murray in the Senate’s health care committee, Congress restored FDA funding in time to ensure no lapse in support for our local life science industry partners!
The congresswoman’s leadership will also be essential to bolster our local health care delivery infrastructure as we think about the challenges that might confront our region in the future. One public health crisis on our doorstep is the threat of antimicrobial resistance. AMR occurs when bacteria evolve to become immune to traditional antibiotics, typically in high-volume hospital settings. These “superbugs” are exceedingly difficult to treat. According to the CDC, more than 2.8 million AMR infections occur in the country each year, and 35,000 people die annually as a result. As this threat grows, the pipeline of new antibiotics is still sparse.
Several factors contribute to this gap in therapeutic development – but Congress has a vital role to play in incentivizing a cutting-edge response. With the congresswoman’s leadership, we could see bipartisan legislation like the Pioneering Antimicrobial Subscriptions to End Upsurging Resistance (PASTEUR) Act (S.2076 / H.R. 3932) passed to address this growing threat. Legislation like this would stimulate new economic development in Spokane as local innovators and established companies rise to meet the challenge of developing and manufacturing new antibiotics and potentially help us all avoid the next pandemic-level infectious disease threat.
As the founding CEO of the Evergreen Bioscience Innovation Cluster, I see a bright future ahead for our life science industry sector with continued partnership from the members of our federal delegation who have proven time and again that they understand the unique needs of our innovation economy and are proactive in addressing the future of the industry. Collaboration is the bedrock of success that will enable further economic development opportunities in biosciences. By working together, we will provide sound, family-wage jobs for our communities and stimulate the next generation of therapeutic discovery that will benefit patients across the U.S.
Katrina Rogers is the CEO of the Evergreen Bioscience Innovation Cluster, based in Spokane.