Bad Science Blog Highlights The Harm Done By Pharma Patents
from the it's-a-start dept
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.From there, Goldacre runs through the traditional arguments both in favor of and against pharma patents, and concludes:
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?
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.