'Front and center': Industry leaders call for response to Supreme Court abortion case draft
Biotech industry leaders want the drug development world to stand up and ensure employees have access to abortions after a draft ruling last week revealed the nation’s highest court might overturn a nearly five-decade-old ruling, known by two names: Roe v. Wade.
“We have to make noise, for one thing, which is effective, but also encourage people to take some sort of action,” Paul Hastings told Endpoints News. Last week, the Nkarta CEO and BIO chair called on his fellow biotech companies to help pay for travel expenses for employees in states hindering access to reproductive health.
“We’re in the business of providing healthcare for people, and so we want to be in the business of advocating for people so that they have rights to healthcare. This is not an issue that is not a biotech issue. It’s front and center,” Hastings said. “We spend our lives coming up with therapies for people. Reproductive rights may not be a fancy biotech drug, but it’s certainly a healthcare service that is absolutely dependent upon by half of our population, and we need to fight for that. And that is our business. That’s my opinion.”
“The least companies can do is follow Amazon’s and Nkarta’s example. Pulling together letters like what we did for Ukraine takes some time so it made sense for Paul to convey a shared sentiment more quickly under his own name, but were it a letter, it would no doubt have had many signers,” Kolchinsky told Endpoints in an email.
Asked if the industry would look to compile a coordinated letter like it did in response to the war in Ukraine, Hastings said “a lot of people” would likely sign it but with abortion being a “hot-button item,” 1,000 different recipients means 1,000 edits “because everybody has a different take on this.”
Hastings, whose startup is located in California, said he doesn’t have to worry about his employees’ access to reproductive rights because of where Nkarta is perched. But he worries about other states.
“We need to remember that the power that we have in numbers is astronomical, even in Texas, even in Florida,” Hastings said.
Biotechs should be cognizant of where they set up shop.
Kolchinsky said, “It’s prudent for companies to take a state’s position on women’s reproductive rights into account when deciding where to expand into. As a board member and investor, I would expect them to.”
Hastings, who has been an advocate for gay rights as one of the most visible LGBTQ+ executives through his post as BIO chair, said he worries about the potential implications if the Supreme Court sticks to its draft ruling. This includes abortion, contraception, gay marriage, voting rights and more, he said.
From his office at Nkarta — in the middle of the biotech’s lab — Hastings has talked about the Supreme Court news with his colleagues, some of whom have been “devastated” and have said they’re discussing the issue with their families around the dinner table.
“There’s so much noise out there right now with all these different things with Ukraine and with this, what’s going on in Florida and Texas, that people after a while they get burnt out from all the noise, but we can’t; we’ve got to stay in front of this stuff.”
Ahead of the San Francisco launch event for LGBTQ-focused industry organization OUTbio last Thursday, Hastings said he expected the Supreme Court draft to be a “conversation in the room.”
“That’s one place to get this conversation started,” he said.