Nick Dearden is one of the Trot Boys over at Global Justice Now (Used to be World Development Movement until people realised how nutty it was). Here we have him on antibiotics:
First, take pharmaceuticals – the most profitable sector in the world. The so-called big pharma companies maintain their profit margins through very long monopolies on new (or newly adapted) drugs, as well as all manner of financial shenanigans. Far from requiring these decades-long patents to allow them to research new drugs, these companies actually spend far more on advertising than they do on research. They also spend more on stock buybacks to keep their share price high in the money markets.
This is to miss, entirely, why we have patents in the first place. Which is that the regulatory structure leads to it costing $1 to $2 billion to get a new drug approved. But that cost is a public good. Once it’s been done it’s easy to copy, so, how do we make it so that people can profit from spending the $2 billion so that people spend the next $2 billion.
Note that this is nothing at all about how they ought to, or it is righteous that, they make a profit. It’s about how do we get the next drug discovered for the next $2 billion?
Our answer is, and it might not even be the right one, that we give a 20 year exclusivity to the production of the approved drug. This actually works out as a decade or so, as the patent runs from the entry into the system, not the approval, that approval taking perhaps a decade.
I, and just about everyone else, am willing to consider whether this is the right solution. But it is necessary to understand the problem that we’re trying to solve.
As to advertising spend and so on – well, yes, if you’ve got only 10 years to make back your $2 billion wouldn’t you want to tell people and quickly?
Big pharma is the epitome of monopoly capitalism. It’s not going to waste its time developing new, fallback antibiotics that will only be used as a “medicine of last resort” – because by the time their use becomes widespread, the patents will have expired and the profits will be gone.
Now, that is actually a problem, yes. One that many people are working upon, up to and including direct subsidy of drug producers to create new antibiotics so as to overcome that very financing problem.
Clamping down on antibiotic prescriptions might be important, but we also need to transform the corporate model that brought us here. Big pharma and agribusiness requires heavy regulation.
Ah, no, Trot Boy has the answer, just let me play Fat Controller and she’ll be fine.