In the Feb 26 issue of Science, the Chief Patent Counsel for GlaxoSmithKline has written a “Policy Forum” article outlining the reasons that the pharmaceutical industry needs longer and stronger patent protection on its new drugs (to fend off those nasty generics). I was kind of shocked to see such a propaganda piece in Science, but I suppose it is all part of looking at both (all) sides of an issue. Big pharma has been telling us how tough they’ve got it for years, and the argument that they must charge very high prices to pay for all that R&D is so old that you can probably find it carved on stone in subterranean caverns beneath New Jersey (where many big pharma companies live). Unfortunately, many of the arguments are hollow as well – since it has been pointed out many times that over 75% (a conservative estimate) of new drugs come directly out of academic research and then get their souls licensed to big pharma. Anyway, I’m working on a letter to the editor (which only has a slight chance of getting into Science in any form anyway). Here’s a first draft, which, I’m afraid, is most likely a bit too terse for Science as yet:
Regarding Sherry Knowles Policy Forum article in the 26 Feb 2010 issue of Science, it is difficult to feel much fiscal compassion for an industry that has long held the record for highest profit margins in the world. The GSK Chief Patent Counsel’s suggestion for giving branded pharmaceuticals an even longer protection period from generics also elicits little sympathy for an industry that has forced the creation of literally scores of non-governmental agencies who fight daily for universal access to life saving medicines that are kept from people who need them simply because of patent restrictions and cost. It is true that new drugs cost a lot of money to develop, although nowhere near as much as the pharmaceutical industry claims (a discrepancy that has been pointed out for years by people like Marcia Angell, former Editor-in-Chief of the New England Journal of Medicine). Is it wise, however, to give even more control over branded drug distribution to an industry that is steadily conglomerating into a small number of giant profit making machines? Are a few multi-billionaire CEOs, with an eye primarily on the bottom line, the best arbiters of what drugs the world may be allowed to have access to? I’d like to see a Policy Forum discussing how to decentralize the pharmaceutical industry: how to sever the currently requisite licensing-to-big-pharma model and create a large number of small-profit-margin ventures, working closely in league with academic labs, developing and manufacturing new, critically needed drugs, and getting them to needed populations at 3% over cost. Big pharma can stay around too: there’s plenty of market for more Rogaine and Viagra spin-offs.
Livid in Louisiana