How The Messed Up Incentives Of Pharmaceutical Patents Means Indonesia Won't Share Bird Flu Samples

from the progress-of-useful-arts-and-sciences? dept

When discussing the patent system, one area that is often singled out is pharmaceutical patents — with even those who are against other types of patents often believing that pharmaceutical patents may represent a special case. However, there’s increasing evidence that there are tremendous downsides to pharmaceutical patents in that it often puts the incentives in the wrong place — more towards “me too” and leisure drugs, rather than actually building up pharmaceuticals that help people. On top of that, there’s plenty of evidence that thriving pharmaceutical industries (including new drug discovery) can occur even in the absence of patents. Slashdot today points us to yet another example of the screwed up incentives created by patents in the pharmaceutical industry. It turns out that Indonesia has stopped supplying samples of avian flu to the World Health Organization for the creation of vaccines. Instead, they are working out a commercial deal with a single American vaccine company. By providing it to a single company, they are limiting the likelihood of cheaper, more effective vaccines. Yet, why are they doing this? It’s all about the patents and the money. They’re worried that if they just give out the samples, anyone might be able to patent a vaccine… without compensating Indonesia, even if it supplied the samples. This is clearly an unintended consequence of a system of poorly designed incentives. It certainly doesn’t make anyone (or science) better off in the long run.


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Comments on “How The Messed Up Incentives Of Pharmaceutical Patents Means Indonesia Won't Share Bird Flu Samples”

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29 Comments
Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Pharmaceuticals: Lousy Capitalism

The pharmaceutical industry is absolutely the worst example you can come up with of the consequences of free-market economics. Diseases like malaria and tuberculosis, which kill millions of people a year, go begging for good medicines, while the drug companies spend billions coming up with drugs like Viagra. Why? Because the sufferers of those fatal diseases live mostly in third-world countries, so they can’t afford to pay lots for a cure. Whereas erectile dysfunction is very much a first-world disease, so its sufferers can afford to pay lots.

dorpus says:

Re: Pharmaceuticals: Lousy Capitalism

Diseases like malaria and tuberculosis, which kill millions of people a year, go begging for good medicines, while the drug companies spend billions coming up with drugs like Viagra.

But then, herpes viruses infect about 1 in 4 people in rich countries, yet pharmaceuticals have not found a cure for them either. And believe me, there is a lot of money to be made in a cure for the herpes viruses.

Whereas erectile dysfunction is very much a first-world disease, so its sufferers can afford to pay lots.

It is, in fact, a universal disease. Sufferers of erectile dysfunction in the third world pay a fortune for the drugs, which may be outlawed by their governments out of moral prudishness or greed.

dorpus says:

Not very deadly

The extent of media coverage and hype devoted to Avian flu is out of proportion to its true hazard. It remains an unproven conjecture that the 1918 pandemic strain could devastate the world again. It occurred during the specialized situation of WW1, when soldiers were packed in close quarters and unhygienic conditions, and there were large refugee populations in Europe. It is not clear that the same strain could do much damage in rich countries today, where sanitation is much more thorough, and people are far more squeamish about “diseases”.

If the same strain today wipes out populations in the developing world, along with the white liberals who go to save them, what’s the problem?

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Re: Very deadly

… the 1918 pandemic … occurred during the specialized situation of WW1, when soldiers were packed in close quarters and unhygienic conditions

No it didn’t. It happened after the war was over.

…and there were large refugee populations in Europe.

What large refugee populations? Are you mixing up WWI with WWII?

dorpus says:

Re: Re: Very deadly

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_flu

“While World War I did not cause the flu, the close quarters and mass movement of troops quickened its spread. It has been speculated that the soldiers’ immune systems were weakened by the stresses of combat and chemical attacks, increasing their susceptibility to the disease.”

As for refugees, why would they not exist? WWI tore up lots of real estate.

dorpus says:

Re: Re: Very deadly

Also, this site provides the details of massive population displacements in Europe during and after WWI.

http://www.let.leidenuniv.nl/history/migration/chapter61.html

e.g.

“1918: 1.8 million Germans left Russia, Poland, Alsace-Lorraine and the German colonies to go to Germany and Austria.

1917: France recruited many labourers from other countries: Spain: 25.000, Portugal, North-Africans 300.000, Algeria: 86.000, Morocco and Tunisia: 55.000.”

Gustavo says:

Re: Not very deadly

Why don´t you go fuck yourself, motherfucker!
The “developing world” you are talking about, is in that condition for people like you and the leaders of the so called “free world” who kills people just for pleasure or to steal their natural resources.
Did you go to school when you were young? Whom do you think feed your parents and your grandparents after both of WW? Yeah, us, the third world. And you know what, if the first world is full of people like you, I better stay were I am. I don’t want to live in the same world with you

dorpus says:

Re: Re: Not very deadly

Why don´t you go fuck yourself, motherfucker!
The “developing world” you are talking about, is in that condition for people like you and the leaders of the so called “free world” who kills people just for pleasure or to steal their natural resources.

Are you sure it is not third world dictators who kill their own people to profit themselves?

Did you go to school when you were young? Whom do you think feed your parents and your grandparents after both of WW? Yeah, us, the third world. And you know what, if the first world is full of people like you, I better stay were I am. I don’t want to live in the same world with you

The US has been the world’s largest exporter of grains for a long time, while most developing nations do not produce enough food to feed themselves. The notion that developing nations somehow fed the world in the wake of the world wars is preposterous.

First world countries have provided plenty of aid to third world countries, in the form of food relief, development assistance, or whatever else. Third world countries have squandered all the help.

Gustavo says:

Re: Re: Re: Not very deadly

Of course they provide help to third world countries. I think they did it after seeing the devastation that the dictators produced.
But they always forget that they place the dictators first and helped them gain more power so they can do business with them, at the expense of the common people.

dorpus says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Not very deadly

Of course they provide help to third world countries. I think they did it after seeing the devastation that the dictators produced.
But they always forget that they place the dictators first and helped them gain more power so they can do business with them, at the expense of the common people.

In the third world, the choices are between supporting a brutal dictator (who gets some things accomplished) and anarchy (where everyone kills each other and nothing gets accomplished).

Enrico Suarve says:

Nasty situation

I can see their point and understand their stance – it basically amounts to “stop using us a test bed for infections”

Its a risky strategy for them but as the article points out they actually have a lot more people dying each year from old favourites such as polio

Perhaps the major western Pharmaceuticals create just enough vaccine for a small percentage of people at a high price each year for a reason?

If they teamed up with Indonesia and others, the human strains may be wiped out entirely… by accepting that Indonesians etc are not going to get their hands on the vaccines readily they are accepting that they will continue to get infected every year, and so the virus will stay around guaranteeing their profit year on year

On the whole I can understand Indonesia’s stance and I imagine they hope to get concessions (cheaper vaccines, feedback back regarding the viruses and assistance from the WHO creating their own anti-viral labs and manufacturing facilities)

I also believe Dorpus is quite right regarding the sensationalism in the media, there are several notable scientists who cite WW1 and its effects as assisting the first outbreaks (which arrived in several waves prior to 1918 and may also have included swine flu at the same time – they didn’t know the difference back then and we don’t have enough samples to the best of my knowledge)

Its not unreasonable therefore to state that the present infections may not have anywhere as big an impact on present day 1st world citizens, mind you its a different strain so it could well be more effective

Dorpus – you amaze me most of what you write is pure trolling but every now and again there are real gems, then you go and troll in the same post?

_rj_ says:

The third world was not muchbetter off without the influence of the first one (just read some history).

“I can see their point and understand their stance – it basically amounts to “stop using us a test bed for infections””

Who, what. Of course they are a “test bed” , they live in close contact with a couple of billion chicken. If they want protein, they will have the chicken…

The point is really: If they provide the samples to the UN/scientific community, lots of independant groups will work on them, and academics do vaccine studies.
While one company will own and only use them if it is profitable for them, if Indonesia gives it only to them.
Remeber the only ones doing Malaria research (no money to be earned) are academics not companies. So, in the long run Indonesia can only loose…
And compensating Indonesia for avian flu samples, hm, similiar strains can be found in Thailand etc. Basically, only the knowledge of epidemiology in all of asia and the study of specific proteins as vaccine candidates existing in all strains (not only Indonesia) will help… What will Indonesia say, if the WHO finds a vaccine, but Indonesian flu strains are (by bad luck) not addressed, since they could not study and compare them?

dorpus says:

Re: Re:

Indonesia, the world’s 4th most populous country at 225 million people, is still growing at 1.41% per year. Who complains if a massive epidemic wipes out millions of them? Indonesians will be the first to tell you that their islands are overcrowded and full of unwanted poor, who lead hopeless lives of crime and failure.

Enrico Suarve says:

Re: Re:

point is really: If they provide the samples to the UN/scientific community, lots of independant groups will work on them, and academics do vaccine studies.
While one company will own and only use them if it is profitable for them, if Indonesia gives it only to them.

True in a certain sense but reading between the lines it certainly sounds like Indonesia have done a deal with the pharmaceutical in question – we give you the samples, you promise not to rip our throats out when we come back to buy vaccine

I would *guess* from the way this has happened, that it has occured for a reason – more than likly they have not been able to afford vaccines in the past, which as Mike puts it are then patented so no one else can produce them cheaply instead

They are playing hard ball and taking a substantial risk themselves as if it goes wrong they will have no vaccine – either someone made this decision and is totally corrupt (looking for da money) or this is driven by true desperation. Neither option is nice but I would actually hope its the latter, at least it would mean someone is on the side of the populace

ning says:

Re: Re: Re:

“I would *guess* from the way this has happened, that it has occured for a reason – more than likly they have not been able to afford vaccines in the past, which as Mike puts it are then patented so no one else can produce them cheaply instead”

The Indonesian Health Minister did mention a bad experience in the past.
When chickenpox pandemic hit, Indonesia and other affected countries gave out the virus sample freely, and then found out they weren’t allowed to make the vaccine themselves, for their own strain, because of the patent laws. She said this was unfair.

Why must a poor country give out a virus sample if it will result in an unaffordable and unavailable vaccine for its own population?

In Mr Suwit from Thailand words: “We give them free virus sample. And when the pandemic hit, they survive and we die.”

However Indonesia had expressed it will continue to share the virus sample with those who agree will not make the virus for commercial purposes, and as the minister said as quoted by Antara News Service, the WHO has agreed to this.

Tyshaun says:

Which evil would you like...

The way I see it either you keep the current system or you move to government sponsored drug development. I don’t see many pharmaceuticals doing R&D on new drugs without the patent system being as much of a cash cow as it is. The one point that is overlooked is that much of the 3rd world steal benefits from patents because they simply make knock offs of the first world drugs. I give no moral stance on this practice because their are pros and cons to both sides, but I can say that the practice is probably the primary source of pharmaceuticals for third worlds because most don’t have the money to fund R&D efforts of their own.

Now, imagine a government run system, would that be any better than the current system? I would argue that pharmaceuticals would become “state secrets” and the production of knockoffs would be halted not by the current threat of legal proceedings by a patent holder, but by the threat of military force by governments looking to keep their national secrets secret (I can see it now, the war on counterfeit pharmaceuticals).

That being said, what’s the solution Mike/techDirt? No patents on pharmaceuticals? With the speed at which generics can be produced, what company would bother with R&D if the minute they release their product it is copied. Drugs are VERY expensive to create, it isn’t like a piece of software or something.

Still waiting for something more than “patents are bad”……

a says:

How is this the drug industry’s problem or fault? Indonesia is the one who is selling the samples. Looks to me like they are the ones who want to profit off of this, not the drug companies. It says that Baxter is the one paying for it, and its not exclusive.

Seems to me that Indonesia is the one being greedy here. Indonesia is the one who stopped sending samples to the W.H.O.

Anonymous Coward says:

Patents are not reasonable in this context.

I find the whole idea of drug patents distasteful.

The pharma industry cry about “incentives” but medicines are a very unique industry. Since in some cases, lack of access to the medicine has serious sometimes fatal consquences.

Additionally, the greed in the pharma industry in rampant and bleed over into other health care actives, (eg bribing doctors to sell there oils).

Other issue I have with the govern giving one way protection to a corporation to the determent of society, is the lack of acknowledgement that a singnificant portion of R&D is externally funded, by charities, universities, individuals, and most importantly the government. Which help demonstrate how the industry is unique. I mean how many charities are there to help develop optical computing compared to AIDS reasearch. This issue is more often left out when pharma and their projecting parrots bemoan the R&D expense.

Health care quite frankly isn’t something I really think that should be left up to the market to decided. I mean look at American Idol, do you really want to leave health care decisions up to such a market?

leaglebob says:

How are patents “not reasonable” in this or any other context? “Before you tear down a fence, know why it was put up.”

Even with patent protection, PRIVATE entrepeneurs are not motivated to research drug cures for the third world. How would removing patent incentives help this situation?

Nothing prevents governments from pursuing such cures if they had any interest in doing so.

Better to modify or change patent law than think it should be thrown out?

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