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Opinion: Biotech companies lose $21 billion in research funds amid political squabbling

At the start of a vacation four years ago, I got off a plane and hopped into a car full of tears.

While approaching the airport, my family learned that a 16-year-old friend had been diagnosed with blood cancer. Holy cow.

But don’t jump to conclusions, I said. I follow the biotech sector closely, and the regular advances in cancer therapies are amazing. Things may well work out.

That was just a wild guess. But it turned out to be right. Four years on, she is now in full remission and is a college student. Great news.

Sadly, though, thanks to politicians, some other 16-year-old girl diagnosed with cancer over the next few years may not be so lucky.

Why? Because the continuing ridiculous political spectacle, fueled by politicians on the left and right, has halted progress on policy.

By my estimate, this has cost biopharma companies $21 billion in research funds in the past two years.

That’s enough to fund the development of up to 21 drugs — including the one you might need to save your own daughter from cancer at some point.

Now, that may not sound like a lot of drugs, given how many of them are out there. But only 29 new drugs have been approved each year in the U.S. over the past decade, on average. In short, politicians may literally be taking years off our lives. Sad!

The unresolved ‘drug price debate’ costing us dearly

To drum up votes, then-candidate Hillary Clinton on Sept. 21, 2015, famously tweeted a shot at drug development companies. She accused them of charging way too much for their products. By bringing the drug price debate back to center stage, the tweet hammered biopharma stocks — and they’ve never really recovered.

Biotech exchange-traded funds like the iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology Index IBB, -0.85% and the SPDR S&P Biotech XBI, -1.97% still trade below pre-tweet highs, and they’ve lagged the S&P 500 SPX, -0.07% the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.28% and Nasdaq Composite COMP, -0.42% since.

The reason: Wall Street hates uncertainty. And that’s what it sees in biotech. Because of the bizarre state of affairs in Washington, D.C., politicians from Trump on down aren’t really dealing with many of the important issues before us. By leaving the “drug pricing” issue open ended...