Trump Travel Ban Leaves Biomed Community Struggling for Clarity

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By John T. Aquino

The biomedical industry is struggling with the collateral impact of the White House travel ban for people from seven countries, biomed experts told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 1.

On Jan. 27, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that banned travel into the U.S. for citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for at least 90 days as a temporary safeguard against terrorists entering the country.

“The President’s travel ban will have a meaningful impact on the biomedical community,” Jennifer S. Geetter, an attorney with McDermott Will & Emery LLP, Washington, who advises global life sciences and health-care clients, told Bloomberg BNA in a Feb. 1 phone interview. “The ban is likely to have even longer-range negative effects by chilling the attraction of the best minds to come to the U.S. to work for biopharmas or for grad school or faculty positions,” Carol Pratt, an FDA regulatory attorney with Lee & Hayes LLC, Portland, Ore., told Bloomberg BNA in a Feb. 1 e-mail. “The U.S. depends on non-U.S. talent especially in the sciences. Chilling interest by that talent in coming to the U.S. for education or employment will impede the pace of innovation in the U.S.”Bloomberg BNA’s inquiries at the National Institutes of Health, the White House and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services went unanswered.

Ban’s Collateral Impact

“There are many, many lawyers working to provide advice to a diverse array of clients and develop strategies for their clients, and their employees, students, patients and others, as a result of the ban,” Geetter said. “The legal community is responding as lawyers always do—assisting clients with answers and options and responding to the human beings impacted by a government decision. But this is an unprecedented event. The situation has evolved over the last few days, but I think it is an understatement to say that we are living through a period of uncertainty. It continues to be a struggle to provide clarity or reassurance, and the human toll is real.”

Clarity is important, Geetter said, because “international collaboration has always been the hallmark of biomedical research and health care. But the executive order is having a collateral impact, and it’s important to understand how it affects day-to-day activities, such as patients who have sought or were about to seek medical care in the U.S.; physicians, researchers and scientists who wished to attend scientific conferences or otherwise collaborate in person; residency and student programs; and physicians and researchers working in the U.S. We continue to assess the impact to determine how we can best help the health-care community during this period of uncertainty.”

Ernest D. Prentice, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, told Bloomberg BNA in a Feb. 1 phone interview: “Everybody wants to keep America safe and will accept a thorough vetting process. But the roll-out of this has had a scatter-gun-from-the-hip effect: scientists are stranded, students at my institution and others are afraid to go home in the event of an emergency. These individuals are not a threat to the U.S.”

Prentice added, “I think it’s sending a bad signal. We depend on foreign scientists. If they are reluctant to come here because they don’t know what to expect, it will affect drug discovery and innovation.”

Impact Uneven

Geetter said the executive order may have different impacts on medical researchers, life science company employees and physicians, students, patients from these countries. Effects will differ for those who were in the U.S. before the executive order but happened to be abroad when the order came down and may be unable to return to the U.S. versus people who are still in the U.S. but afraid to leave for upcoming business or social travel, she said. Also affected will be those who were scheduled to come to the U.S. but have not yet departed.

“This is still largely a case-by-case analysis. Each situation may be a bit different and warrant a different response and strategy,” she said.

“And then there are patients from those countries who have scheduled medical treatments. It’s unclear at this time what the executive order means to them,” Geetter added.

Pratt said, “Academic medical centers engaged in federally funded medical research will be particularly affected. NIH and National Science Foundation-funded medical research involves many foreign students. The ban will be very disruptive to the smooth continuation of research that is already funded and ongoing.”

The Association of American Medical Colleges issued a statement expressing concern about the impact of the travel ban on U.S. medical education and research, as did the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic.

Creates Uncertainty

The Trump administration has somewhat clarified how and to whom the order will apply, Geetter said. “But in a lot of cases, we just don’t know, and it is very difficult to have to tell people who are trying to seek medical care or go about their professional or academic work that clear, compassionate answers may take a while, or may not be forthcoming. People are trying to catch up, and it’s going to take a bit of time.”

Pratt noted: “The current ban could easily be expanded in the future to a larger number of countries. That creates tremendous uncertainty. Continued opposition to discriminatory bans from both academia and our tech and entertainment industries can be expected.”

Mark Barnes, an attorney with Ropes & Gray LLP, Boston, told Bloomberg BNA in a Feb. 1 e-mail: “Leaving aside the policy merits or demerits of the order, the fact is that the order allows exceptions to be made in compelling circumstances, and therefore we ought to expect that for researchers affected whose work is demonstrably valuable, attorneys representing them and their employers will be able to make convincing arguments for their entry into the U.S. Time and experience will tell the extent to which exceptions will be granted.”

-- With the assistance of Jeannie Baumann.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jeannie Baumann in Washington at jbaumann@bna.com; John T. Aquino in Washington at jaquino@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Randy Kubetin at RKubetin@bna.com

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