Strong opinions, weakly held

More on drug research

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.


  1. I agree that public funding of drug research, but something about the competitive nature of what you quoted above makes me nervous. I guess it’s because the government should be focussing on general research, which may or may not directly result in useful drugs, not drug production.

    But then, all I know about this subject is the little I’ve read on your blog, so who knows how it works once you get into the details.

  2. i was initially skeptical about the efficacy of purely government sponsored drug research…..but i think i’m turning now. to provide some useless anecdotal evidence, i was once a part of the pharma industry, and one of my own frustrations was the fact that so many drug programs would essentially be starved for funds simply because it wasn’t an ailment afflicting the wealthy. i think “socialized” drug research built on an incentive model would certainly address that issue while the for-profit companies can essentially continue on uninterrupted in providing hard-ons for those in need…..

  3. Under the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, universities and non-profit organizations were allowed to retain patent rights to inventions (including drugs) that were discovered using federal research grants. Prior to 1980, the results of such research had to go into the public domain. This is now an important source of funding for many universities, but I would argue that it has had a significant negative impact on the public good. For example, many of the most effective anti-AIDS drugs were developed using federal funds at universities, which then transferred the patent rights to pharmaceutical companies.

    Perhaps this particular law could use a reexamination…

  4. It makes sence but i do not believe health industry even without govenment influence. If you know what i mean. The more money the less confidence.

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