A swarm of top biotech ex­ecs protest against Trump’s trav­el ban, say­ing it threat­ens the en­tire in­dus­try

The re­ac­tion against Pres­i­dent Trump’s de­ci­sion to ban trav­el from 7 pre­dom­i­nant­ly Mus­lim na­tions drew an in­stant re­ac­tion from the biotech world, gain­ing a quick thumbs-down from a large ma­jor­i­ty of the hun­dreds of in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tives we’ve been in touch with.

Now the biotech op­po­si­tion is get­ting or­ga­nized.

In a let­ter pub­lished in Na­ture Biotech­nol­o­gy this morn­ing, 166 biotech ex­ecs lev­eled a blast at Trump’s trav­el ban, now stayed at least tem­porar­i­ly by a court rul­ing, say­ing that it strikes at the heart of the in­dus­try’s abil­i­ty to re­cruit the best and bright­est staff from all over the world while rais­ing deep seat­ed fears among all their staffers from out­side the US.

The let­ter was signed by a long line­up of high-pro­file ex­ec­u­tives drawn from the CEO suite, ven­ture cap­i­tal and acad­e­mia, in­clud­ing Herve Hop­penot, the French CEO of Delaware-based In­cyte, George Scan­gos, the for­mer Bio­gen CEO who’s now lead­ing a start­up, and MIT’s Bob Langer, a se­r­i­al biotech en­tre­pre­neur with more than 30 star­tups to his cred­it.

“If this mis­guid­ed pol­i­cy is not re­versed,” they say, “Amer­i­ca is at risk of los­ing its lead­er­ship po­si­tion in one of its most im­por­tant sec­tors, one that will shape the world in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry.”

The let­ter un­der­scores the groundswell of op­po­si­tion in the in­dus­try to the ban. It al­so high­lights a grow­ing di­vide be­tween the ex­ec­u­tives who lead this field and BIO, the in­dus­try or­ga­ni­za­tion which lob­bies on their be­half. So far BIO has stayed mum about the trav­el ban.

(Ed­i­tor’s note: Late on Tues­day I re­ceived the fol­low­ing state­ment from BIO Chair Ron Co­hen and three board mem­bers, Je­re­my Levin, John Maraganore and Paul Hast­ings, tak­ing ex­cep­tion to that re­mark about BIO.

“We did want to high­light an in­ac­cu­ra­cy in your re­port re­gard­ing spec­u­la­tion that the let­ter re­flects a “grow­ing rift” be­tween BIO and its CEO and com­pa­ny mem­bers. There is no such rift, grow­ing or oth­er­wise; we are choos­ing to speak out on the ban as in­dus­try lead­ers, not as a trade as­so­ci­a­tion. This is not dis­sim­i­lar to how tech in­dus­try CEOs, not their trade as­so­ci­a­tion, have spo­ken out on this mat­ter. In­deed, we be­lieve that BIO is an es­sen­tial or­ga­ni­za­tion for the well-be­ing of our in­dus­try, which is why we all de­vote con­sid­er­able time out of our busy sched­ules to its ac­tiv­i­ties.”

My re­ply: Si­lence is a po­si­tion, and it’s marked­ly dif­fer­ent from what ex­ecs, in­clud­ing these board mem­bers, have ex­pressed.)

Most of the top CEOs of the Big Phar­ma com­pa­nies, many of whom have been lob­by­ing for tax re­form that would al­low them to repa­tri­ate bil­lions of dol­lars in re­serves held over­seas, have al­so stayed qui­et on this is­sue. But there was at least one ex­cep­tion to the Big Phar­ma rule of si­lence — aside from Al­ler­gan CEO Brent Saun­ders.

“Sci­ence doesn’t have any bor­ders, so any­thing that gets in the way of a bor­der­less sci­ence ex­change doesn’t help,” said As­traZeneca CEO Pas­cal So­ri­ot, quot­ed to­day by Bloomberg. The UK-based phar­ma gi­ant has re­search and man­u­fac­tur­ing sites in Mass­a­chu­setts and Mary­land. “We want to be able to move our peo­ple and our sci­en­tists around the world.”

The Bloomberg sto­ry al­so rais­es con­cerns that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s fo­cus on the H-1B visa pro­gram used to bring in sci­en­tists from around the world could be al­tered, mak­ing it hard­er to re­cruit abroad.

Here’s a por­tion of the let­ter:

The Unit­ed States has led the world in med­i­cine pro­duc­tion for decades, not on­ly be­cause of its abil­i­ty to fi­nance drug dis­cov­ery, but al­so be­cause, more than any oth­er coun­try, the Unit­ed States rep­re­sents op­por­tu­ni­ty re­gard­less of bor­ders, gen­der, race, sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion or po­lit­i­cal cast. This has en­abled our in­dus­try to at­tract the best tal­ent, wher­ev­er it is found. This as­pect of our in­dus­try is a core rea­son the Unit­ed States has built its unique strength in bio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals.

At a stroke, the new ad­min­is­tra­tion has com­pro­mised years of in­vest­ment in this na­tion­al trea­sure. Our col­leagues who are here on visas or are in glob­al out­posts are now fear­ful and un­cer­tain of their sta­tus. Sci­en­tists based in oth­er coun­tries and em­ployed by our com­pa­nies are afraid to come to the Unit­ed States or are can­cel­ing trips. The par­ents and fam­i­lies of im­mi­grants who live and work in the Unit­ed States are re­luc­tant to at­tempt to trav­el to and from the US.

Though the ban from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is aimed at sev­en coun­tries, our glob­al em­ploy­ees in­ter­pret the un­der­ly­ing mes­sage as, “Amer­i­ca is no longer wel­com­ing of any im­mi­grants, what­so­ev­er.” They fear sim­i­lar or­ders could be is­sued for oth­er coun­tries at a mo­ment’s no­tice. They fear be­ing stig­ma­tized and dis­crim­i­nat­ed against, sim­ply be­cause of their re­li­gion, ir­re­spec­tive of the na­tion they come from. Sev­er­al among us have heard from em­ploy­ees about their de­por­ta­tion fears, how they do not feel com­fort­able leav­ing the coun­try on busi­ness or how they now feel cut off from their fam­i­ly abroad.

Every na­tion has the right to de­ter­mine who comes across its bor­ders. Every na­tion needs to be vig­i­lant in de­fend­ing it­self against and hunt­ing down ter­ror­ists. The ac­tions tak­en by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, how­ev­er, were poor­ly con­ceived and im­ple­ment­ed; they have raised deep fears and con­cerns across the biotech in­dus­try, in which di­ver­si­ty and the free flow of ideas and peo­ple have cre­at­ed an Amer­i­can pow­er­house of med­i­cine. 

If this mis­guid­ed pol­i­cy is not re­versed, Amer­i­ca is at risk of los­ing its lead­er­ship po­si­tion in one of its most im­por­tant sec­tors, one that will shape the world in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry. In­deed, it will harm an in­dus­try dom­i­nat­ed by small­er com­pa­nies and star­tups, the very kind of in­dus­try the ad­min­is­tra­tion has said it wants to sup­port. It will slow the fight against the many dis­eases that af­flict us, as well as car­ry neg­a­tive eco­nom­ic con­se­quences for the Unit­ed States.

You can find a PDF with the list of ex­ec­u­tives who signed the let­ter here: Im­mi­gra­tion Let­ter Sig­na­tures

Brian Kaspar. AveXis via Twitter

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Brian Kaspar’s head was among the first to roll at Novartis after company execs became aware of the fact that manipulated data had been included in its application for Zolgensma, now the world’s most expensive therapy.

But in his first public response, the scientific founder at AveXis — acquired by Novartis for $8.7 billion — is firing back. And he says that not only was he not involved in any wrongdoing, he’s ready to defend his name as needed.

I reached out to Brian Kaspar after Novartis put out word that he and his brother Allen had been axed in mid-May, two months after the company became aware of the allegations related to manipulated data. His response came back through his attorneys.

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Several biopharma companies have been working on expanding drug labels through the use of real world endpoints, combing through the data to find evidence of a drug’s efficacy for particular indications. But we’ve just begun. Real World Evidence is becoming an important part of every clinical development plan, in the soup-through-nuts approach used in building franchises.

I’ve recruited a panel of 3 top experts in the field — the first in a series of premium webinars — to look at the practical realities governing what can be done today, and where this is headed over the next few years, at the prodding of the FDA.


ZHEN SU — Merck Serono’s Senior Vice President and Global Head of Oncology


ELLIOTT LEVY — Amgen’s Senior Vice President of Global Development


CHRIS BOSHOFF — Pfizer Oncology’s Chief Development Officer

A premium subscription to Endpoints News is required to attend this webinar. Please upgrade to either an Insider or Enterprise plan for access. Already have Endpoints Premium? Please sign-in below. You can contact our Subscriptions team at help@endpointsnews.com with any issues.

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In a statement that arrived after the bell on Monday, Sarepta explained the CRL, saying:

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Levi Garraway. Broad Institute via Youtube

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Ritu Baral Cowen
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