21 comments on “Timmy elsewhere

  1. That is, the results (ie, we know that heroin cures pain, Hurrah!) are non-rivalrous and non-excludable. This means that they are also extremely difficult to make any money out of.

    Are you sure of this? Who ends up with the patents from government-funded drug research? Certainly we know who ends up with the patents of some government-funded research – BAe. We paid for it, but they make money from it – and then charge us for the privilege. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we pay for drug research and then the drug companies get to keep the rights.

  2. SMfS
    All of your points are answered by Ms Mazzucato in the original Observer article: the companies spend more on buying back their own shares than on the research which is mainly done by the public sector and small biotech labs: the companies get to keep the rights as you say.
    Pfizer dumped their researchers in Sandwich even though they came up with Viagra.

  3. I worked on a drug trial and one day it just got shut down because someone else got ill on another related trial. Probably not ill because of the drug. But it had to be stopped. And they didn’t get a penny back for when it restarted.

    And the worst organisation that the trial company I worked for dealt with? The NHS. Created all sorts of barriers to getting people onto a trial, barriers that no-one else set (e.g. subjects had to be referred by GPs). The trial got shitcanned early on because it just wasn’t going to recruit enough subjects.

  4. @SMFS ‘I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we pay for drug research and then the drug companies get to keep the rights.’

    But we get the drugs.

  5. I could say something about big pharma here but I really don’t want people quoting me.

  6. Interested – “But we get the drugs.”

    Which is great. But we ought to get to keep the patents too.

    We should not be in the business of corporate welfare. If we pay for something, we should own it. To licence as we please.

  7. TS
    I should hope that a GP would be involved when people want to to go on drug trials. They might have things seriously wrong with them.Do you object when a chemist checks whether your latest prescription interacts badly with something you’re already taking? This laissez-faire world where everything comes right in “the natural course of things”(Adam Smith not Wordsworth) is Romantic era crap.

  8. DBC,

    A doctor is involved in drug trials – you have to go to the doctor who screens the subject, supplies the drugs, monitors you and so forth. The FDA or the MHRA would turn up at your door if you started handing out drugs to people (and despite being in the small state mindset, that’s one area where the state *should* be involved).

    But you don’t need a doctor to recruit someone to a trial, to find people who have a medical condition. You can just advertise.

  9. A number of comments from people who didn’t read Tim’s article. Its the development that costs the big bucks. I wonder if penicillin would be licensed for use if it was developed today.

  10. @SMFS ‘Which is great. But we ought to get to keep the patents too.’

    Yeah, I just don’t known how many drugs companies would carry on in business if that happened. Lots of people’s pensions tied up in them too. It’s not a straight-forward thing.

    Personally, not sure I want the state to benefit – I think the more they ‘get something back for the taxpayer’ the more it encourages them.

  11. @DBC you seriously are thick, aren’t you? Do you think doctors are not involved in clinical trials? Do you assume people just rock up, hold out their hands and are given the pills?

    It’s just another waste of a GP’s time, so as the politicians and bureaucrats you love so much can put out press releases telling us how much they have our best interests at heart, is all it is.

  12. Interested,

    It’s not so much that it’s a waste of their time. The drug companies wouldn’t care about that. It’s that the GPs just don’t get enough people through for the trial. You’re relying on firstly, someone seeing their GP who has a particular condition and secondly that the GP knows about the trial and remembers to mention it.

    But drug trials have a timescale for recruiting subjects. You have to get a number of people within a certain period. If you don’t hit that, the trial doesn’t go ahead. You can maybe extend the period, but that means careful management in conjunction with the regulators, and they don’t like it (because originally recruited subjects may drift away or change their mind).

  13. I would reccomend Tim Worstall’s ASI article, because it is quite clear that some at least have not bothered to read it. And when you do read it, look up ‘public good’, it explains very neatly why government doesn’t get into the patent game.

  14. Can someone name a drug from the last 30 years that was government-developed and the patent just handed over to a big pharma? Rather than sold for oodles of money? We are hearing so much about so many of them that there must be examples just lying around in the street.

    Yes, I know there is a paper from 2011 in NEJM but I am not convinced by the list. I or colleagues wrote at least some of the Phase I-III reports for several of the listed products and I don’t remember any university of wherever funding it. Others on the list are so old that they are long off-patent.

  15. Of course doctors are involved in trials, they have to be.

    There are not usually strict recruitment targets set. Slow recruitment doesn’t affect earlier recruits, they don’t wait around to start treatment until everyone is on board. You can’t do it that way.

    The doctors (clinics, hospitals, whatever) get paid for their efforts, this isn’t a free service the NHS provides to drug companies, they bill for it!

    Of course trials for rare things cannot be run economically through GPs – you use specialists. Still, the patient’s GP will be informed if the patient enters a trial. That’s just a letter, sort of stuff that goes back and forth between GPs and specialist all the time.

  16. @TS ‘It’s not so much that it’s a waste of their time. The drug companies wouldn’t care about that.’

    Yes, I’m not saying they would, I was addressing DBC Reed’s suggestion that it’s a good thing if they are involved and pointing out that it’s not necessary, and actually in most cases is just a waste of a GP’s time and an additional paperwork burden.

  17. BiG: no one in their right mind thinks that patents are just handed over to Big Pharma. But it does seem to be increasingly the case that drugs are discovered by public sector institutes before being licensed to drug companies for development. I’m not convinced by Tim’s argument that this is because there’s no money in making the discoveries, I suspect it’s because many researchers feel more comfortable not working directly for Big P.

    Sometimes there can be distressing consequences: Abiraterone, discovered by researchers at ICR, was initially priced by J&J beyond the NICE cost guidelines.

  18. PaulB – “I’m not convinced by Tim’s argument that this is because there’s no money in making the discoveries, I suspect it’s because many researchers feel more comfortable not working directly for Big P.”

    I thought it was well established that good researchers do not work for large companies? Virtually no original research is done in commercial businesses – except Bell Labs which does kind of prove the point. At least none worth mentioning.

    Which is a bit of a worry if you think how close universities are coming to large, incredibly badly run, corporations.

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