Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Patent Problem

, During our conversation with Steve Block on Friday the topic of incentivizing the pharmaceutical industry to make vaccines came up. I actually wrote a paper this year concerning the pharmaceutical industry’s obligation to humanity, which includes providing vaccines and conducting research for the third world. As we discussed, the main issue is that there is no economic incentive for this industry to provide cheap or free vaccines to developing countries. Dr. Thomas Pogge, a renowned Leitner Professor of Philosophy offers a potential solution. Pogge identifies the patent system as the heart of the problem. Patents may support a sense of competition in the research field and inspire innovation. However, once they are obtained, a single company has the power to excessively increase drug prices without competition. Pogge’s solution essentially involves separating the research and development sector from the marketing sector, at least for research involving life-threatening diseases. He also proposes that this separate R&D sector be supported by a global fund. Contributions from every country would need to support the fund, with developed nations undertaking the majority of the cost. However, there is motivation for developed nations to do this because medication cost will be decreased for everyone, according to Pogge’s theory.

The point of whether or not the pharmaceutical industry has a duty to humanity is certainly debatable, but Pogge simply offers a potential solution. The idea of a global health fund reminds me of the Atlantic Storm simulation. Should only a third party organization like the WHO be in control during global health emergencies? Should a neutral global health fund support research essential to the health and survival of humanity?

“Thirty years ago modern health technology had just awakened and was full of promise. Since then its expansion has surpassed all dreams, only to become a nightmare.”

- Dr. Halfdan Mahler, Director General, World Health Organization, 1990

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