Ultragenyx Fights for Cures Amid Rising R&D Costs
About 30 million people in the United States have a rare disease, according to the National Institutes of Health, which equates to about one in every 10 individuals. Approximately 95% of these rare diseases have no treatment at all—and Ultragenyx, a biopharmaceutical company focused on new and effective therapies for patients with rare and ultra-rare diseases, is working to change that.
- “In the aggregate, rare is not that rare,” said Ultragenyx Executive Director of Public Policy and Public Affairs Lisa Kahlman. “Half of those 30 million people are children. It’s a huge unmet medical need.”
Founded in 2010, Ultragenyx has four commercial products, with about 20 more in pre-clinical and clinical development. But a new change in tax policy poses a very real threat to Ultragenyx’s ability to develop as many treatments for rare diseases as possible.
The issue: Until a year ago, businesses could deduct 100% of their R&D expenses in the same year they incurred the expenses. Starting in 2022, however, a tax policy change requires businesses to spread their R&D deductions out over a period of five years, making it more expensive to invest in growth and innovation. For research-heavy companies like Ultragenyx, that change could divert funds intended for the development of therapies toward tax obligations.
- “Ultragenyx is different,” said Kahlman. “There are a lot of companies that do some work in rare diseases, but usually that’s only a fraction of what they do. We’re exclusively built to focus on rare and ultra-rare diseases, and that requires research.”
The impact: As a small, largely precommercial start-up company that focuses on research, Ultragenyx spends about 70% of its total operating expenses on R&D. In 2021, Ultragenyx spent approximately $497 million on R&D—nearly $150 million more than it earned in revenue.
- If the tax change stands, the company’s financial statement losses, which approximate decreases in the company’s cash reserves, will be adjusted for tax purposes to reflect significant taxable income, resulting in very large tax liabilities over a short period of years.
- This will occur during late stages of the company’s development programs just when costs escalate quickly. Altogether, money will be diverted to taxes and away from critical development programs at precisely the wrong time.
The human cost: If Ultragenyx and other research-heavy biotech companies that are focused on developing treatments for rare diseases must divert funds away from development and toward covering tax obligations, patients living with rare diseases will have even more limited options.
The bottom line: “The therapies we’re developing are really transformational, but in some cases, there might be only about 200 patients in the developed world with one of these diseases—so if we don’t have the money for R&D, there won’t be any incentive for anyone else to develop treatments,” said Kahlman. “For these patients, there is no alternative.”
Our move: At the NAM, we’re pushing Congress to reverse this change and allow manufacturers to invest in jobs, communities and innovation. Learn more and take action at www.nam.org/protect-innovation.