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Still No Official Word From Biopharma Groups About Trump Travel Ban

Xconomy National — 

Four days after President Donald Trump issued an order to temporarily ban U.S. entry for people from seven Muslim-majority countries—and for all refugees—the drug industry’s two main lobbying groups have remained silent, even while individual executives in the industry have voiced opposition.

The main life science trade group in California has also stayed on the sidelines. A spokesman for the California Life Sciences Association told Xconomy that the group is “monitoring the rapidly evolving situation and no statement at this time.”

The only major organization to take an official position is the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council. It released a statement Monday from its CEO and president Robert Coughlin that read, in part, “The recent refugee and immigration executive order is a threat to the sustainability and growth of the life sciences industry throughout the United States and, in particular, in Massachusetts, and a threat to scientific discovery.”

The Washington, DC-based Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) declined to weigh in. On Monday, spokeswoman Holly Campbell of PhRMA responded to a query about the travel order, saying “I will make sure you receive any statement we may issue,” but she did not say if a statement was forthcoming.

PhRMA was willing to take on Trump, at least indirectly, when it launched an expensive campaign last week to counter the public and political backlash against drug prices. Trump sent biopharma stocks into a tailspin three weeks ago when he said drug companies have been “getting away with murder” and pledged to allow the federal Medicare program to negotiate drug prices with companies. Current law does not allow negotiations.

At least one PhRMA board member has spoken out against the Trump travel order, however. Allergan CEO Brent Saunders tweeted Sunday, “Oppose any policy that puts limitations on our ability to attract the best & diverse talent.”

As of late Monday, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization has not made an official statement. Representatives did not answer queries. In response to questions on Twitter Saturday, the organization’s president and CEO Jim Greenwood tweeted “Any chance you might allow me to look at and think about this prior to your judgements?” As of late Monday night he had not made any other statements.

BIO chair Ron Cohen, who is also the CEO of Acorda Therapeutics, did comment as part of a poll taken by the biotech news site Endpoints, in which 87 percent of more than 1,000 respondents opposed the travel ban, according to Endpoints.

“I am dismayed that as many as 13% of respondents actually minimize the importance [to] biopharma of the recent events,” Cohen wrote. “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.”

The Massachusetts state trade group could have been spurred from within. Several Boston-area executives reached out to the media over the weekend to voice their disgust about the Trump policy. “A lot of us here in the biotech industry are pretty worked up about this,” said Nagesh Mahanthappa, CEO of Cambridge, MA-based Scholar Rock.

Mahanthappa’s parents emigrated from India. He was born in Philadelphia and raised in Colorado.

The 90-day ban applies to people from seven Muslim-majority countries—Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen—even if they had valid U.S. visas or green cards. It also stops all refugee admissions for 120 days. It has been partially and temporarily blocked by a federal judge, which has set free many detained at U.S. airports over the weekend. There have been reports that U.S. residents with valid green cards have been forced to surrender their cards to immigration officials. It’s unclear how many people have not been allowed to board flights to the U.S. because of the ban.

Trump administration officials have cited attacks on American soil as justification for the order. According to a Washington Post report, nearly all U.S. terrorist attacks in the past twenty years have been carried out by U.S. citizens, either U.S. born or naturalized, or by citizens of countries that are not included in the ban. For example, most of the September 11, 2001 attackers were from Saudi Arabia.

The fallout from the immigration order continued Monday night, as Trump dismissed acting attorney general Sally Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration, who said the Justice Department would not defend the order.

Donald Trump photo by Michael Vadon, used under a Creative Commons 2.0 license. (The photo has been cropped to fit Xconomy publishing standards.)