Medical fusion could improve cancer treatment for minorities. So why is the FTC blocking it?



Opinion: Black Americans have a higher death rate than any other racial group. Getting a diagnosis faster is the key to reversing the worrying trend

America has been waging a war on cancer since President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act in 1971, and to his credit, President Joe Biden has set himself a goal of ending cancer during his tenure. He is also committed to making racial equity a core political value. However, recent action by the Federal Trade Commission defeats both of these goals.

The FTC is working to block the merger of biotech companies Illumina and Grail, which are leading the way in early detection of cancer using blood samples and the technology needed to process the tests. Blocking the merger is a mistake that will harm future cancer patients, especially those from minority communities.

Nationally, cancer kills an estimated 600,000 Americans per year – essentially a number of COVID-level deaths year after year. Cancer is the second leading cause of death for all Americans; but black Americans generally have the highest cancer death rate of any racial and ethnic group.

For example, over a four-year period ending in 2016, black women were nearly 40% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women, while black men overall were 18% more likely to die from breast cancer. die from all the cancers that white males do.

For minorities, one of the keys to reversing these disturbing statistics is early detection – the earlier cancer is caught, the easier (and cheaper) it is to treat and the greater the chances of a cure. However, minorities are more frequently diagnosed at more advanced or advanced stages of certain types of cancer than White Americans, making effective treatment more difficult.

This is why it was so disappointing to see the FTC take action to block the Illumina-Grail merger. Grail has developed a blood test that detects 50 types of cancer, most of which currently have no other means of early detection. Businesses are not competitors; they occupy two different stages in the same supply chain.

Legal challenges to such “vertical” mergers are unusual. In fact, it would only be the second in over 40 years.

This breakthrough in blood testing will allow for earlier treatment of cancer. It is difficult to imagine a greater victory for cancer patients, especially the minorities most affected by this terrible disease. Indeed, FTC Commissioner Rebecca Slaughter called the technology “a game changer for cancer patients and their loved ones.”

Still, Slaughter and the FTC oppose the merger over fears that Illumina, which dominates the market on a critical input needed to process blood tests from Grail and its competitors, will use its dominance to charge more. competitors of Grail or hamper their research and development. efforts. The result, according to the FTC, would be less competition and higher prices.

These fears are not only unfounded, but backward.

Illumina has offered its customers guaranteed access to its services as well as a commitment to reduce prices by more than 40% within four years. The FTC has accepted these types of remedies in the past.

The FTC’s action is based on speculation (what Illumina can do in terms of raising prices for Grail’s competitors), not actual evidence. Instead of risking a loss in court, the agency is banking on the European Union to prevent the deal from being reached before the December 20 deadline.

In April, the EU launched a review of the merger, which prompted the FTC to cynically stay its lawsuit until the EU decides. If the EU allows the merger, the FTC can relaunch its legal challenge confident that it will drag on.

If the FTC can get away with essentially outsourcing its work to the EU while it slows down its own challenge, the agency will hold back innovation.

The only way to lower the price of these tests is to allow companies to compete freely. A breakthrough like this will attract other companies to enter the market and quickly catch up or even surpass existing technology. The result will be better cancer screening at a lower cost.

The United States has brought COVID-19 vaccines to market in record time. We did this by coming together to enable innovation, not by erecting barriers to stop it. Democrats and Republicans should now unite to prevent the FTC from continuing this disastrous policy.

As a senior national adviser to the previous White House, I witnessed what can happen when Republicans and Democrats put aside their differences to work together to resolve issues affecting minority communities. This is how we were able to accomplish the First Step Act, the Investing in Opportunity Act, and help historically black colleges and universities.

There are few policies that are literally a matter of life and death; the pervasive racial disparity in American health care is one of them. It is a great challenge that demands a proportionate bipartisan response. Stopping the FTC’s misguided and dangerous action against better cancer screening would be a good place to start.

Ja’Ron Smith is the Executive Director of the Center for Advancing Opportunity, a partnership between the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, the Charles Koch Foundation and Koch Industries.


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