Another Example Of How Patents Skew Medical Research
from the why-bother? dept
When it comes to patents, the argument for pharmaceutical patents is a lot more compelling than for many other areas. However, as you start to dig into the details, the argument for pharma patents becomes a lot more troublesome in that it creates incentives that have little to do with improving healthcare, and quite a lot to do with what can be patented. The monopoly power granted by patents pushes all research money into only things that can be patented, ignoring other possible cures, even if they can be both profitable and quite helpful. A recent GAO study found this to be a worrisome trend, noting that fewer new innovative drugs are being created — with pharma firms instead focusing on ways to extend the patent protection on existing products by pulling a few tricks (such as “reinventing” Claritan as Clarinex just to get more patent coverage).
William Stepp points us to an example of how this focus on patents has helped to hold back one doctor’s promising research on a way to help heal brain injuries. The doctor in question had come across some interesting findings back in the 1960s, but one of the problems in getting support for the research was that the findings wouldn’t produce a patentable pharmaceutical product. Instead, it just showed that progesterone, a natural female hormone, could help heal brain injuries. Since it’s just a natural hormone, there’s nothing that can be patented, and the doctor had a very difficult time finding anyone to back the research. After decades of working on it — often completely on the side, it seems that he’s finally been able to build up some support — and it turns out that his early findings did make sense and that the results appear to work equally well in humans as in rats (his initial test subjects). This is a clearly a big discovery — and it was delayed decades because the focus on patents obscured the bigger issue.
This is the exact same thing that is seen repeatedly in Andy Kessler’s book, The End of Medicine about the healthcare system. Time and time again, it’s the pharmaceutical industry and their focus on what can they patent (rather than what can be done to improve healthcare) that gets in the way of real improvements that could save lives. The focus on what can be patented, and the games played to extend patents (at great costs) means that money that should be going towards much more useful areas of healthcare get diverted into less useful, but artificially profitable, endeavors. That’s what happens when you set up artificial monopolies.