(gevende/iStock)

The March 27 front-page article “Pharma giant profits from HIV drug” perpetuated a misleading narrative in the drug pricing debate.

The federal government plays a vital role as our society seeks to conquer disease and alleviate human suffering. Its support of basic research expands our scientific knowledge, which then serves as building blocks in the labs of biotech companies to develop innovative medicines.

However, taking this basic research and developing it in into a safe, effective therapy for patients is a long and costly process. Twenty years ago, National Institutes of Health-funded research led to the discovery of RNA interference as a natural pathway to control gene expression in worms and then in other animal cells. NIH funding was less than $10 million. For 17 years, my company has worked to transform this research into treatments for rare diseases. We’ve solved fundamental scientific questions, such as how to get this technology into the cell in the right place in the body and to find genetic targets of disease. After investing more than $3 billion in research, we received approval for our first therapy just last year.

If we ignore the important and distinct contributions of the public and private sectors, we risk upending an ecosystem that leads the world in biomedical innovation and offers the best hope for patients.

John Maraganore, Cambridge, Mass.

The writer is chief executive of Alnylam Therapeutics and chairman of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.