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August 24, 2012
Drugs, IP, Convenience, and Price
It's been a while since I wrote about the intersection of the drugs industry and intellectual property
. Longtime readers will know this is one of my hot buttons, in part because I don't like what's happening and yet don't have a good solution.
I remain committed to the idea that businesses should be able to profit from what they do, including pharmaceutical companies. Bringing a new drug to market is still a multi-million (maybe billion) dollar endeavor - beyond the scope of most charities and even many governments. But we're not talking about hobby items here - medicines developed this way are potentially life-saving and, when full-priced, are often beyond the means of millions of patients who need them to live. This gap has to be bridged, somehow, and drug companies have successfully used IP monopolies (primarily patents) to shut down efforts to bridge it.
In today's About STD column, Elizabeth Boskey notes that a new regime of multi-drug/single-pill treatments may be coming online soon. These new treatments should make life vastly easier for patients who no longer have to do such careful juggling, and should improve treatment because people will, simply put, take one pill consistently and more often than they will manage a complex daily regime of multiple pills and meals. New drugs, better treatment. And of course the companies that make these pills will likely get tidy profits from the drugs' success rate and - as Boskey notes - from a lock-in effect.
All of which brings us back to the central dilemma: companies will need patents (or similar legal mechanisms) to protect their innovations against unauthorized copying, but at the same time they'll have to figure out what to charge. And it looks like Congress may be getting in on the act early this year, as Congresscritters have already written to one manufacturer asking that the medicine be priced "sustainably". Maybe that's the right solution - let companies know that legislators are watching over their shoulders and encourage them to consider how they can recoup costs and make profits over a longer time period, selling more cheaply.
(Full disclosure: Ms. Bosky is a long-time personal friend and like other journalist/bloggers gets paid to write columns for places like About. I don't think she makes money per click but I'm sure her employers are happy when her writings prove popular.)
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