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Exclusive: Biotechnology leaders surveyed about impact of Trump presidency

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Credit: ©Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

New Rochelle, Nov 11, 2016–The day following the election of Donald J. Trump as President, a survey of leaders in biotechnology in the United States, conducted by GENETIC ENGINEERING AND BIOTECHNOLGY NEWS (GEN) showed that Trump's presidency will negatively impact NIH research funding as well as STEM education; a plurality said it will also spark a "brain drain" as foreign-born researchers educated in American universities will be more likely to leave.

Over 1600 professionals, from industry and academia, responded to the survey.

The largest majority, 57.11%, believe that the president-elect will hurt research funding. 24.26% said it would not make a difference, and 9.79% said Trump's presidency would prove positive.

One respondent expects, however, that industry will seek to outsource R&D to US academic labs: "If done wisely, perhaps there's a chance such a scheme could augment private funding for life science research."

During the campaign, Trump hinted at possible support for higher NIH budgets, even as he has called for cutting federal spending: "We must make the commitment to invest in science, engineering, healthcare and other areas that will make the lives of Americans better, safer and more prosperous," he has said.

51.74%, believe that science-technology-engineering-mathematics (STEM) will not be a priority under a Trump administration. 29.25% are uncertain, but 19.01% believe that a Trump administration will focus attention on STEM education.

"The biotechnology industry faces the possibility of a brain drain, and this is most alarming," said Mary Ann Liebert, founder and CEO of the 35 year old publication. A 46.78% plurality of respondents say they believed that foreign-born scientists who have been educated in the U.S. will be more likely to leave during a Trump presidency.

"GEN will continue to survey the field as Trump makes appointments in the cabinet and other positions, said Ms. Liebert. "The biotechnology community, like many others, was not prepared for a Trump victory; they must be on high alert to assure that one of this country's premier enterprises will not be compromised. In general, scientists are not political activists by nature, and this has to change."

A large plurality (49.81%) opined that overseas researchers will still seek academic positions or jobs in the US biotech industry; "but I think there will be fewer [of them applying]," a respondent predicted. 30.21% said they were uncertain, and 19.97%, disagreed.

While Trump has proposed allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices as a means of lowering ever-rising prescription drug prices, and even called "pharma bro" Martin Shkreli, the Turing Pharmaceuticals' founder who received severe criticism earlier this year after raising the price of a toxoplasmosis therapy from $13.50 to $750 per pill, "a spoiled brat," close to half of respondents doubt that the president-elect will seek to contain those prices once he is sworn into office. Only 23.01% think Trump will do so, while twice that percentage (46.59%) believe he won't. The remaining 30.40% are uncertain. 56.22% of respondents believe a Trump presidency will affect the value of shares in publicly-traded biopharmas; 28.74% are uncertain, and 15.03% do not foresee any effect.

That view may have been swayed by yesterday's Wall Street rally, which reversed the stock selloff seen immediately after Trump won his electoral-vote majority. Three key exchange-traded funds for biotechs showed gains in the first trading day since Election Day: The iShares NASDAQ Biotechnology exchange traded fund (ETF) rose 9% to $284.99, as did the New York Stock Exchange Arca Biotechnology Index, which soared to $3,320.78, while the SPDR S&P Biotech ETF jumped 10% to $63.78.

"Values in publicly-traded companies will be affected, but I think that this will be mostly short- to intermediate-term," a survey respondent observed.

Opinions were more mixed on whether corporate funding of life sciences research will be impacted: 42.89% say it will, 26.22% say it won't, and 30.89% say they are uncertain.

Businesses would benefit, one respondent said, if Trump can lower the nation's corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%:

"Biopharma companies will remain located in the US rather than leaving to countries with lower tax rates. This will result in an increase in biopharma jobs and act as a magnet to bring international researchers to the US."

Whether Trump can achieve that tax cut, or other measures that benefit biopharma, remains uncertain.

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Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News, which is published 21 times a year by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., is the most widely read biotechnology news magazine worldwide. It includes articles on Drug Discovery, Bioprocessing, OMICS, Biobusiness, and Translational Medicine.

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Mary Ann Liebert
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