Bad Science Blog Highlights The Harm Done By Pharma Patents

from the it's-a-start dept

CG was the first of a bunch of folks who sent in a link to Dr. Ben Goldacre from the always excellent Bad Science blog taking on the issue of the harm done by pharma patents:
Ignoring patent and licensing issues has allowed Dr Yusuf Hamied, director of Cipla, to innovate: even though each drug is officially owned by a different company, he could put a common combination of three treatments (Stavudine, Lamivudine and Nevirapine) into one simple, single combination pill. This increases treatment compliance -- it's easier to take your medication correctly -- and that keeps you alive longer, while reducing the emergence of resistant strains.

Hamied calls his pill Triomune (he also offers "Antiflu", a copy of Tamiflu for the developing world, and many more). In 2001 he was selling to MSF clinics for $350 per person per year, more than 30 times cheaper than the official versions of these drugs. Triomune is now only $87 a year. This is amazing. Hamied is a hero.

Richard Sykes, head of GlaxoSmithKline (and now retired rector of Imperial College London) disagreed. He called Hamied a "pirate" and described the quality of Indian generic drugs as "iffy". Hamied says GSK is a "global serial killer" for charging high prices for their medication. So who is right?
From there, Goldacre runs through the traditional arguments both in favor of and against pharma patents, and concludes:
If the global $550bn pharmaceutical industry are trying to make an economic case for patents in the developing world, then they must argue that the benefit to drug development from the financial incentives in these tiny corners of the world market is so significant -- so vital, the final link in the incentive chain -- that it is more important than millions of unnecessary deaths. I am not a health economist, but I doubt that is a fair swap, and this is not what patent laws were invented for.
Indeed. I'm glad to see Goldacre take on this issue, though I hope that he'll spend some time exploring the work done by many before him that goes much more deeply into the problems with pharma patents. For example, in explaining why pharma patents can be "good," Goldacre trots out the line "It takes about $800m and 10 years to bring a drug to market," but that's been widely debunked. If Goldacre (or anyone else) is interested in the subject, they should check out Merrill Goozner's detailed and thorough analysis of this claim in his book, appropriately entitled The $800 Million Pill, which thoroughly debunks the notion that it costs a pharma company $800 million to bring a pill to market.

On top of that, he should look at the some of the work done by Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz in detailing how patents harm innovation in the drug process. Or, hell, he can look to the US government itself. The GAO put out a report a few years ago, noting that patents appeared to be hindering, not helping, the development of new drugs. Another great source of detailed information is the chapter in David Levine and Michele Boldrin's book, Against Intellectual Monopoly, that directly deals with the case of pharma patents (pdf). It goes through the history of different patent laws in different countries and totally debunks the idea that patents create true incentives for pharma. There's plenty of evidence of harm, but very, very little true evidence that patents create actual incentives for innovation.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2009 @ 1:39pm

    "I'm glad to see Goldacre take on this issue, though I hope that he'll spend some time exploring the work done by many b... blah blah blah"

    If Masnick is such an expert it's a shame he doesn't take on the issue himself instead of trying to publicly claim superior expertise while contributing ... what ?.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    icon
    jjmsan (profile), Sep 9th, 2009 @ 2:35pm

    Re:

    So according to your thinking no "expert" should ever defer to anyone else because...? As for the contribution, he has an interesting site that looks at economics in a way that is different. It is generally enjoyable and with a few notable exceptions has thoughtful comments. Yours was not one of the thoughtful ones.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    A Dan, Sep 9th, 2009 @ 2:36pm

    Re:

    Actually, Mike's mentioning others who have expertise, in an effort to contribute additional reliable information to the discussion. The start of the post is a synopsis; the end lists sources for additional research. That seems helpful to me.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2009 @ 2:48pm

    Re: Re:

    If he had made his comments directly to Ben Glodacre you might have been able to claim an effort to contribute, instead he put his "contribution" onto his own unrelated blog claiming superior expertise - not the same at all !

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), Sep 9th, 2009 @ 2:54pm

    This is easy

    Glaxo is made up of some seriously evil heads guiding the hands of brilliant heroic scientists. For instance (from wikipedia):

    "In February of 2009, GSK head Andrew Witty announced that the company will reduce all drug prices to 25% Western prices in the 50 least developed countries, release intellectual property rights for substances and processes relevant to neglected disease into a patent pool to encourage new drug development, and invest 20% of profits from the least developed countries in medical infrastructure for those countries"

    Sounds great, except that they decided NOT to include AIDS in the designation, meaning large numbers of African nations and/or districts/counties/etc. didn't receive the aid and price cuts as promised. For those that did, Glaxo made some effort to raise prices in the "West"(also defined oddly by Glaxo to include several East Bloc nations) so that the pricing in Africa and Asia would remain relatively static.

    And it should be noted that GlaxoSmithKline is a corporate member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2009 @ 3:12pm

    Re: This is easy

    Easy but not useful since you didn't post it on the right blog site.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Sep 9th, 2009 @ 4:27pm

    Phuck Big Pharma

    In addition to patents, the marketing culture has driven costs through the roof, at least in the US.

    I'd LOVE to see drug re-importation allowed, at least from western countries. That fifty dollar pill is profitable to sell for five in Canada? Hey, let's get some of those. We're all North Americans Free Trading, right?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Michael Long, Sep 9th, 2009 @ 4:58pm

    From The New England Journal of Medicine

    "On the other hand, it [The $800 Million Pill] falls short of what I expected from the title. It is not a detailed forensic accounting of the true cost of developing individual drugs as compared with industry claims. Indeed, the only real discussion of the $800 million pill (the alleged average cost of developing a new drug in the United States) comes in a brief review of a study by the Tufts University Center for the Study of Drug Development that was first published in 1991 and then updated in 2001. There is a brief rebuttal from other organizations in the penultimate chapter of the book, but for a reader looking for definitive "proof" or data, this book falls short."

    Doesn't sound to me that the notion is thoroughly debunked at all. Lots of claims and assumptions, little proof.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    ..., Sep 9th, 2009 @ 8:19pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    And AC makes a major contribution to society by denigrating others - Yeah

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Sep 9th, 2009 @ 10:40pm

    Re: From The New England Journal of Medicine

    Doesn't sound to me that the notion is thoroughly debunked at all. Lots of claims and assumptions, little proof.

    You should try reading the actual book.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Rashmi Pant, Sep 10th, 2009 @ 1:52am

    Veeda CR Corporate Research Blog

    I am in complete agreement withe the author's views on the "SIDE EFFECTS" of patents by the Big Pharma. In developomg countries like India, the person who pays for the "expensive patented drug " is the consumer In India, it is the consumer who pays for his prescriptions.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Michael Long, Sep 10th, 2009 @ 2:10am

    Re: Re: From The New England Journal of Medicine

    Was going to, until I read the The New England Journal of Medicine review of it.

    More to the point, apparently the author is an economist and writer who has never worked in a medical research lab or for a pharmaceutical company.

    Gotta love those "experts" in the field who, despite having never done the work, will be more than happy to tell everyone else exactly how it should be done.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Sep 10th, 2009 @ 2:20am

    Re: Re: Re: From The New England Journal of Medicine

    Was going to, until I read the The New England Journal of Medicine review of it.

    I'll repeat: you should try reading the actual book. You may be surprised. I'd argue that the NEJM review does not do it justice. At all.

    More to the point, apparently the author is an economist and writer who has never worked in a medical research lab or for a pharmaceutical company.


    Yes, how dare an economist actually look at the economics of something.

    I find it a lot more convincing that he's an economist and didn't work for a pharma company.

    Gotta love those "experts" in the field who, despite having never done the work, will be more than happy to tell everyone else exactly how it should be done.

    Um. His expertise is in economics. The books is about economics. What's your complaint again?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    icon
    johnjac (profile), Sep 10th, 2009 @ 5:05am

    Deficit

    Why don't more people draw a line from the US deficit problem (due mainly to rising health care cost) and pharma and other health related patents?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 10th, 2009 @ 6:05am

    Re:

    Wow. There isn't even any sense to his posts anymore. They've degraded to just basic name-calling and personal attacks (and some seething bitterness it seems). Nope, nothing left in the locker. Pantry is bare. He came, he trolled, he failed. Game over. Please insert credit to continue.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Chinese handicraft, May 26th, 2010 @ 1:12am

    Chinese handicraft

    No matter to bless, decorate or present, Chinese knots, MaShao facial make-up, cloth art & embroidery, straw plaiting, wheat stalk picture, etc, these 100% handmade crafts all can satisfy you! Know more information? Just move to our Chinese arts & crafts shop! You must be surprised by those personalized gifts.
    http://www.chinesehandicraft.net

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This