Dean Baker, whose argument on drug patents I linked to last week, has published a specific proposal. In last week’s post, I mistakenly reported that he wanted to do away with drug patents. His actual proposal, which he fleshed out this weekend, is more nuanced and is based on an actual piece of legislation proposed by Dennis Kucinich in the previous Congress. Rather than doing away with patents, he proposes funding drug discovery efforts with federal dollars and putting the results of that research in the public domain. Here’s how he explains it:
My favored alternative is direct public funding of approximately $30 billion a year, as would be provided under the Free Market Drug Act (FMDA) introduced by Dennis Kucinch in the last session of Congress. This would effectively double government funding for biomedical research, since it already is spending approximately $30 billion a year through the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
The basic plan is to create 10 competing government sponsored corporations (each getting roughly $3 billion a year) charged with researching and developing new drugs, through the FDA approval process. All new patents are placed in the public domain so that new drugs can be sold as generics. The work of the corporations is subject to reviews at 10-year intervals by a commission of public health experts. The worst 2 are eliminated with 2 new ones created in their place. The FMDA also creates a separate prize fund (e.g. $1 billion a year) would be used to reward individual researchers, or teams of researchers, for extraordinary breakthroughs, ensuring that there would be substantial incentives.
Drug companies could still patent their own research, but everyone would be able to manufacture the drugs discovered with federal dollars as generics. This seems like a pretty solid proposal to me. There are already plenty of complaints that very little research money goes into efforts to discover drugs that would be helpful but not profitable. Why not let federal government take that on? The initial effort wouldn’t have to be funded at the $30 billion dollar level either, a pilot project could be undertaken for much less.