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Biotech Leaders Sign Letter Condemning Trump’s Travel Ban

Xconomy National — 

The blowback from U.S. business leaders to President Trump’s travel ban continues—today from a throng of biotech executives. This morning, 165 U.S. biotech leaders have signed a letter voicing “deep concern and opposition” to the order, which bars entry to the U.S. to refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries.

The Jan. 27 order placed a 90-day ban on immigrants from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen. It also barred Syrian refugees indefinitely and other refugees for 120 days. The order is currently on temporary hold thanks to the ruling of a federal judge in Seattle, though that could be lifted after an appeals court hearing later today. The case could eventually make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The travel ban has faced mounting vocal opposition from U.S. business leaders. Just yesterday, for instance, a group of major tech companies such as Apple, Google, Tesla, and Microsoft co-signed a “friend of the court” brief with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco saying that the order will cause “significant harm on American businesses.”

Now biotech CEOs, investors, and others in the life sciences industry are banding together. A letter published this morning on Nature Biotechnology’s website and signed by Ovid Therapeutics CEO Jeremy Levin, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals CEO John Maraganore, Acorda Therapeutics CEO Ron Cohen, former Cubist Pharmaceuticals CEO Mike Bonney, Bluebird Bio CEO Nick Leschly, current Biogen CEO Michel Vounatsos, former Biogen CEO George Scangos, Atlas Venture partners Peter Barrett, David Grayzel, and Bruce Booth, Third Rock Ventures co-founder Mark Levin and partners Neil Exter and Cary Pfeffer, MIT professor Bob Langer, and many others condemns Trump’s order.

The success of the biotech industry, the letter reads, depends on the “creativity and dedication of our most precious resource—-our people.” Those people include “researchers, clinicians, entrepreneurs and business executives all over the world” who discover and develop drugs, start companies, and drive the growth and employment opportunities in biotech.

In 2014, 52 percent of the 69,000 researchers in the U.S. were foreign-born, the letter says, citing a study in Nature. The U.S. has a leadership position in biopharma because it gives people “opportunity regardless of borders, gender, race, sexual orientation or political cast,” it reads.

“At a stroke, the new administration has compromised years of investment in this national treasure,” the letter reads. “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 U.S.”

The letter adds: “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.”

The biotech leaders say diversity and the “free flow of ideas” have helped America become a powerhouse of biomedical research. If the policy isn’t reversed, America “is at risk of losing one of its most important sectors,” which would in turn slow the fight against many diseases.

Read the entire letter here. Meanwhile, here’s more of Xconomy’s coverage of the biotech industry’s reaction to the travel ban.

Photo of JFK airport protest of the travel ban courtesy of flickr user Luminary Traveler via a Creative Commons license.