Biotech ex­ecs slam Trump’s trav­el ban, count­ing the high cost to a glob­al in­dus­try

A large ma­jor­i­ty of the biotech in­dus­try has ve­he­ment­ly re­ject­ed Don­ald Trump’s trav­el ban in no un­cer­tain terms.

We de­cid­ed to take the tem­per­a­ture of the in­dus­try in a snap poll emailed to in­dus­try sub­scribers Sun­day af­ter­noon. In just two hours, 600 of our near­ly 13,000 sub­scribers weighed in — the vast ma­jor­i­ty dead set against the ban, many an­gri­ly cit­ing the im­me­di­ate im­pact the ex­ec­u­tive or­der will have on the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try.

In our fi­nal tal­ly for the sur­vey Tues­day morn­ing, we had reg­is­tered more than 1,400 re­spons­es, with 1,226 op­posed (87%) to the ban and on­ly 188 in fa­vor of it. Three out of four felt that the ban is cer­tain to have a neg­a­tive im­pact on the in­dus­try, threat­en­ing di­ver­si­fied staffs, at­ten­dance at US con­fer­ences, and throt­tling back key re­cruit­ing ef­forts. Sev­er­al CEOs reached out to me to voice their con­cerns for staffers with green cards who come from out­side the 7 coun­tries cit­ed by Trump, but who are nonethe­less wor­ried about their fu­tures here. And in many cas­es, it was clear that quite a few ex­ecs in the in­dus­try were sim­ply out­raged by a move that they felt would tar­nish the coun­try’s rep­u­ta­tion for years to come.

We asked BIO for a com­ment, but have yet to hear back. We did hear from BIO Chair­man Ron Co­hen, though, and added it up top.

Some ex­ec­u­tives sent di­rect state­ments. We’ve in­clud­ed them be­low. Be­low that you’ll see re­spons­es from our biotech read­ers, di­rect­ly from the poll. We’ll con­tin­ue to gath­er re­spons­es and post up­dates on our poll through Mon­day. Please spread the word if you get a chance.

Acor­da Ther­a­peu­tics CEO and BIO Chair­man Ron Co­hen:

I ap­pre­ci­ate your ef­forts in tak­ing and pub­lish­ing the re­sults of the sur­vey. Frankly, I am dis­mayed that as many as 13% of re­spon­dents ac­tu­al­ly min­i­mize the im­por­tance bio­phar­ma of the re­cent events. That’s more than 1 in 8. I be­lieve what they miss more than any­thing is that this is not mere­ly an is­sue of 7 par­tic­u­lar coun­tries, which them­selves may not be in the van­guard of med­ical/sci­en­tif­ic re­search; it is an is­sue of the mes­sage that is be­ing sent across the plan­et, of the chill­ing ef­fect on would-be im­mi­grants every­where, who will now see Amer­i­ca as less wel­com­ing, more threat­en­ing, and many of whom will there­fore choose to ben­e­fit oth­er coun­tries with their tal­ents in­stead.
Even peo­ple who are al­ready in the US, in my own com­pa­ny, are ex­press­ing anx­i­ety. Il­lus­trat­ing my point above, the anx­i­ety ex­tends to green card hold­ers from West­ern Eu­ro­pean coun­tries, who trav­el to Eu­rope for both busi­ness and fam­i­ly rea­sons—al­though the let­ter of the Ex­ec­u­tive Or­der would seem not to be rel­e­vant to them, they have con­tact­ed me and our head of HR to ask if they should be con­cerned about get­ting back to the US if they leave for such a trip.

Je­re­my Levin, CEO of Ovid

Every na­tion has the right to de­ter­mine who comes across its board­ers. Every na­tion and par­tic­u­lar­ly Amer­i­ca, needs to be vig­i­lant in de­fend­ing against and hunt­ing down ter­ror­ists. The ac­tions tak­en by the ad­min­is­tra­tion how­ev­er were poor­ly con­ceived, ill planned and ill thought through. By these ac­tions the ad­min­is­tra­tion has raised deep fears and con­cerns across the em­ploy­ee base of the in­dus­try where di­ver­si­ty, the flow of ideas and peo­ple and in­clu­sion have been the main­stay of in­no­va­tion and mak­ing Amer­i­ca the pow­er­house of med­i­cine it is and should re­main. Not on­ly was this a fun­da­men­tal change in the way we and the out­side world in­ter­act, it was a blow to good busi­ness and a de­struc­tive at­tack on the core of what makes Amer­i­ca the great­est en­gine of in­no­va­tion.

Al­ny­lam CEO John Maraganore:

At Al­ny­lam we live our val­ues and cel­e­brate many ben­e­fits from a di­verse work­force. Ac­cord­ing­ly, we re­ject all forms of dis­crim­i­na­tion and lim­i­ta­tions that pre­vent us from ben­e­fit­ing and grow­ing as a di­verse and in­clu­sive work­place. We have a num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al em­ploy­ees work­ing legal­ly at our U.S. lo­ca­tions, and will con­tin­ue to sup­port them in every way we can.

David Schenkein, the CEO at Agios, sent me this:

I am first gen­er­a­tion Amer­i­can and on­ly here be­cause my par­ents es­caped the holo­caust and came to Amer­i­ca- this ban is hor­ri­ble and speaks against every­thing I be­lieve in.

Steve Holtz­man, CEO at the start­up Deci­bel, wrote:

Trump’s ban on im­mi­gra­tion and the no­tion of a re­li­gious test are deeply re­pug­nant to the fun­da­men­tal tenets and val­ues of not on­ly the Unit­ed States but al­so the biotech­nol­o­gy in­dus­try.
We are a sci­ence-based en­ter­prise built on the be­lief that the qual­i­ty of da­ta, not the po­si­tion of pow­er, pres­tige or re­li­gious or oth­er af­fil­i­a­tion of their pro­po­nent, are the source of their au­thor­i­ty.
So­cial ex­clu­sion is the moral equiv­a­lent of the ex­clu­sion of da­ta be­cause they con­tra­venes pop­u­lar be­lief.
We cher­ish all–re­gard­less of na­tion­al­i­ty, race, re­li­gious be­lief, sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion or gen­der iden­ti­fi­ca­tion–who wish to join our in­dus­try’s bat­tle to com­bat hu­man dis­ease and ad­dress un­met hu­man needs.

Then we got this from Bassil Dahiy­at, CEO of Xen­cor:

To sum up, fright­en­ing and de­struc­tive. We are one of many com­pa­nies made up of a large per­cent­age of im­mi­grant staff, high­ly tal­ent­ed and trained. We cease to func­tion with­out im­mi­grants, pe­ri­od. Some now can­not leave the coun­try for fear of be­ing shut out. Those not im­pact­ed di­rect­ly have been scared on-and-off for months be­cause of the an­ti-im­mi­grant sen­ti­ment that was val­i­dat­ed by the elec­tion. They took ac­tion to change their sta­tus that they wouldn’t have oth­er­wise be­cause of fear. Per­son­al­ly, my par­ents im­mi­grat­ed from a coun­try ad­ja­cent to those banned. Are they next?
This move will have a neg­a­tive im­pact on the pro­duc­tiv­i­ty of the biotech in­dus­try if it stands. Tal­ent is hard to come by and clos­ing the door to any sources is bad.
And I hear the fear at Cal­tech, my grad school, is high among the large per­cent­age of for­eign stu­dents. They wor­ry that Amer­i­cans think they are tak­ing their jobs. Cam­paign rhetoric is lis­tened to. What on earth makes sense about re­ject­ing the best and bright­est from our coun­try?  Not to men­tion refugees.  My next door neigh­bors grow­ing up were Viet­namese refugees. I can say for sure they were a ben­e­fit to Amer­i­ca.

Here’s a small col­lec­tion of the huge re­sponse we’re track­ing, all tak­en from the poll.

The trav­el ban rais­es eth­i­cal, moral and pos­si­bly le­gal is­sues. It is re­gres­sive along the very di­men­sions that en­abled the US to be the founders and lead­ers of the biotech­nol­o­gy in­dus­try- in­no­va­tion, en­tre­pre­neur­ship, op­por­tu­ni­ty and fair­ness. As has been wide­ly re­port­ed, Steve Jobs of Ap­ple, was the bi­o­log­i­cal son of a Syr­i­an im­mi­grant, Ab­dul­fat­tah Jan­dali, and was raised by His adop­tive moth­er, Clara, an eth­nic Ar­men­ian whose par­ents es­caped Ot­toman Turkey and im­mi­grat­ed to the US. The cur­rent process for vet­ting refugees is ex­ten­sive and there has been no ev­i­dence pre­sent­ed that pre­vi­ous en­trants have posed a dan­ger. Our coun­try went in­to war in Iraq based on as­ser­tions of im­mi­nent dan­ger that were lat­er found to be un­true. We need to un­der­stand the fac­tu­al ba­sis be­hind such ex­treme and sud­den mea­sures in or­der to avoid re­peat­ing our mis­takes. To the ex­tent this di­rec­tive pre­vents or dis­rupts the abil­i­ty of green card hold­ers to re-en­ter the US, their rights would be af­fect­ed in a dis­crim­i­na­to­ry way and that seems il­le­gal. The biotech in­dus­try re­lies up­on im­mi­grants to a large ex­tent and ef­forts to cre­ate ad­di­tion­al bar­ri­ers than those al­ready in ef­fect would slow in­no­va­tion and progress. Noubar Afeyan

“Yes, the trav­el ban will have an im­pact on the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try. There are many visa and green card hold­ers from those coun­tries who are ei­ther study­ing to be­come a re­searcher or clin­i­cian or cur­rent­ly hold­ing those po­si­tions. How­ev­er, now they are un­able to see any of their fam­i­ly who might re­main in those coun­tries – which can have a dev­as­tat­ing emo­tion­al toll. In ad­di­tion, they are now un­able to trav­el out­side the US for med­ical meet­ings, busi­ness de­vel­op­ment, clin­i­cal tri­al site ini­ti­a­tion, etc. This es­sen­tial­ly blocks them from ad­vanc­ing re­search, as well as their own ca­reer. (Anony­mous)

Part of the strength of bio­med­ical re­search in the US is its abil­i­ty to re­cruit the bright­est and best from oth­er coun­tries to come to US for grad school or post-doc, which then feeds in­to biotech in­dus­try. Trump’s hos­tile stance to­ward rest of world is go­ing to di­min­ish this flow of tal­ent.  Tom Woi­wode

My CEO has dual UK/Iran­ian cit­i­zen­ship (he lives in the U.K.) and is thus un­able to trav­el to the USA at present. (Anony­mous)

“Suc­cess­ful biotech com­pa­nies need out­stand­ing, high­ly skilled peo­ple and they re­cruit from all over the world to get tal­ent. And they need re­li­a­bil­i­ty they can re­tain these peo­ple and not be afraid they may not re-en­ter the US be­cause some type of ban has been or­dered overnight. Even if your biotech com­pa­ny cur­rent­ly does not em­ploy cit­i­zen af­fect­ed by the cur­rent list of coun­tries that are banned…who’s next? This ad­min­is­tra­tion – with their un­rea­son­able and un­pre­dictable be­hav­iour – dam­ages biotech in­dus­try, dam­ages the US econ­o­my and en­dan­gers our free way of life.” — Harpreet Singh, CEO, Im­mat­ics US Inc., Hous­ton, TX

Any ban on any race or re­li­gion has an im­pact on our in­dus­try be­cause our in­dus­try is one of sci­ence and rea­son. Many of us are im­mi­grants, sons and daugh­ters of im­mi­grants or mar­ried to im­mi­grants ( I am gay and mar­ried to my im­mi­grant hus­band from Viet­nam who came here in 1980) . This ban has an im­pact on every de­cent hu­man in the world…a neg­a­tive im­pact. Plain and sim­ple, this is NOT who we are as an in­dus­try or as a peo­ple, pe­ri­od. Proud­ly signed, — Paul James Hast­ings, Chair and CEO, On­coMed Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals

This is an in­dus­try that runs on brains. It needs the best, and they must be able to op­er­ate in a sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment, where they don’t fear for their safe­ty or face hos­til­i­ty. It is not for­tu­itous that over a third of the bio­phar­ma R&D work­force in the US is for­eign-born. Push­ing them out will evis­cer­ate in­no­va­tion. Bernard Munos, In­no­Think

“Di­ver­si­ty is the heart of biotech. Walk in­to any phar­ma or biotech and you will find peo­ple of all eth­nic­i­ties, re­li­gion, na­tions work­ing to­geth­er to solve health care prob­lems. To­day more than ever, if we are to main­tain our com­pet­i­tive­ness, we need the smartest peo­ple around the Globe to choose to come to Unit­ed States over oth­er coun­tries. A ban on im­mi­gra­tion, ban on refugees, even if tem­po­rary, sends the wrong sig­nal. — Sunil Joshi, Pres­i­dent & CEO, Gradalis

I am a biotech lawyer. Each of my clients, every shape and size, are for­tu­nate enough to have some of the world’s best and bright­est sci­en­tif­ic and busi­ness minds among their ranks. Many of them hail from out­side the US, in­clud­ing the coun­tries cov­ered by this ex­ec­u­tive or­der. Why would we want to lim­it our abil­i­ty to work to cure life-threat­en­ing dis­eases and con­di­tions? The drug dis­cov­ery busi­ness is hard enough as it is. Nev­er mind the fact that this is a heart­less act that flies in the face of this coun­tries most ba­sic tenets. (Anony­mous)

We re­ly on good sci­ence. We should at­tract the bright­est and best from around the world what­ev­er their coun­try of ori­gin. — Mike Grey

De­ploy sec­ond-or­der think­ing. This is on­ly a first step. Ex­trap­o­late for­ward. What this leads to. The best tal­ent goes else­where. — Praveen Tipir­neni

I have very ac­com­plished friends in our in­dus­try who are from those 7 coun­tries. (Anony­mous)

All but three of the ‘no im­pact’ votes (by 2:40 am) were anony­mous. And even in the mi­nor­i­ty of cas­es where no re­al im­pact was ex­pect­ed, you could al­so see op­po­si­tion to the move for big­ger rea­sons.

It will hit econ­o­my on­ly mi­nor if at all, phar­ma-biotech even less. But the im­age of US as leader of the free world goes down the riv­er. (Anony­mous)

But Trump has his loy­al sup­port­ers:

In the long term, firm­ness en­cour­ages re­spect. (Anony­mous)

Bio­phar­ma does not re­ly on any of the 7 coun­tries for em­ploy­ees, col­lab­o­ra­tions or busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties. (Anony­mous)

We have many tal­ent­ed re­searchers and sci­en­tists here in the USA that were in fact born and raised here. (Anony­mous)

This is a tem­po­rary pol­i­cy which im­pacts ar­eas not known for their con­nec­tion to bleed­ing-edge sci­en­tif­ic work. As­sum­ing the com­po­nent with green card hold­ers is worked out (and the court or­der around this ap­par­ent­ly has start­ed this), there will be min­i­mal im­pact on the in­dus­try over a 90 day pe­ri­od. (Anony­mous)

The coun­tries in­volved are hard­ly the heart­beat of biotech­nol­o­gy. To try and ex­trap­o­late this on tech­nol­o­gy laden sec­tors is a po­lit­i­cal ex­er­cise, not an ob­jec­tive or re­al­is­tic one. (Anony­mous)

And, of course, we got trolled, too. Anony­mous­ly.

You peo­ple are ut­ter dopes in need of a sto­ry. Trump “tem­porar­i­ly” banned en­try from a few na­tions…not all mus­lims, not all im­mi­grants. Get a clue. (Anony­mous)

By most ac­counts it seems that few CEOs of the Big Phar­mas have made any kind of com­ment on the ban, for or against.

For now, a spokesper­son for Mer­ck says that the phar­ma gi­ant is still as­sess­ing the sit­u­a­tion, adding:

We are com­mit­ted to our em­ploy­ees of all na­tion­al­i­ties and re­li­gions. We are ac­tive­ly reach­ing out to em­ploy­ees who may be af­fect­ed by the Ex­ec­u­tive Or­der to pro­vide le­gal ad­vice and oth­er as­sis­tance.

But a few high-pro­file ex­ecs have stepped up on Twit­ter.

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David Lockhart, ReCode Therapeutics CEO

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Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (Credit: World Economic Forum/Valeriano Di Domenico)

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Leen Kawas (L) has resigned as CEO of Athira and will be replaced by COO Mark Litton

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Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL, foreground) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

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