Is it a newspaper?

If an important story concerning an issue of manifest public concern shows up in the New York Times only five years after its been written about in many well-researched books, is it still really a newspaper? Don’t we maybe need another word? What about all those images in the popular culture of newspapers rushing to ‘scoop’ the competition, to be first with a breaking story?

OK, it’s April Fool’s day, and it would be a joke, if it weren’t so sad. The New York Times FINALLY gets around to noticing that the present IP regime defeats/suppresses many promising treatments. That is in addition to the undue concentration of drugs for chronic conditions of the wealthy, while very few of the needed anti-biotics are being pursued or developed, and the dearth of public funding to academic research centers, which are now very dependent on corporate funding. Hint to New York Times: An even bigger story is the extent to which that corporate funding comes with strings attached, strings which have lead, and will continue to lead, to suppression of academic papers which reach the ‘wrong’ conclusions.

I say the question was a good one five years ago because Michael Perelman’s excellent book Steal This Idea: the Corporate Confiscation of Creativity exhaustively studied the same issues around our present IP system, and was published in 2002.

Well, better late than never. Unless of course you are among the many who have suffered from diseases such as multiple drug resistant tuberculosis, one of the resurgent staph infections, Clostridium difficile, etc. etc, in which case it’s just too damn bad, I guess.

The article also erroneously gives the reader the impression that only cancer drugs are being affected, which is a misrepresentation, because cancer drugs are actually much less affected than either vaccine development or anti-biotic development, both of which have stagnated, and are of critical public concern at present.

Patents Over Patients
What if the best treatments are the cheapest?

Published: April 1, 2007
State College, Pa.

WE could make faster progress against cancer by changing the way drugs are developed. In the current system, if a promising compound can’t be patented, it is highly unlikely ever to make it to market – no matter how well it performs in the laboratory. The development of new cancer drugs is crippled as a result.

The reason for this problem is that bringing a new drug to market is extremely expensive. In 2001, the estimated cost was $802 million; today it is approximately $1 billion. To ensure a healthy return on such staggering investments, drug companies seek to formulate new drugs in a way that guarantees watertight patents. In the meantime, cancer patients miss out on treatments that may be highly effective and less expensive to boot.

In 2004, Johns Hopkins researchers discovered that an off-the-shelf compound called 3-bromopyruvate could arrest the growth of liver cancer in rats. The results were dramatic; moreover, the investigators estimated that the cost to treat patients would be around 70 cents per day. Yet, three years later, no major drug company has shown interest in developing this drug for human use.

Early this year, another readily available industrial chemical, dichloroacetate, was found by researchers at the University of Alberta to shrink tumors in laboratory animals by up to 75 percent. However, as a university news release explained, dichloroacetate is not patentable, and the lead researcher is concerned that it may be difficult to find funding from private investors to test the chemical. So the university is soliciting public donations to finance a clinical trial.

A from a review of Perelman’s book on Amazon:

From Library Journal
Perelman (economics, California State Univ.) presents the position that intellectual property rights private ownership of patents, trademarks, and copyrights inhibit scientific development, constrain creativity, foster litigation, waste resources, and unfairly distribute power and money. Perelman relates illustrative incidents from universities, drug companies, publishing houses, technology developers, government agencies, and the courts. The stories bolster his arguments and help to explain the complicated evolution of law and policy that, in his view, have created an overreaching system that strangles the economy, science, art, and democracy itself. As Perelman admits, this book lays out the problems and not the solutions, which he sees as requiring nothing short of a complete overhaul of the institutions that handle ideas and information. The book persuasively argues Perelman’s point of view. Libraries that purchased Siva Vaidhyanathan’s Copyrights and Copywrongs may want to add Perelman’s book, as he does for patents what Vaidhyanathan did for copyright. This timely, thoughtful work is recommended for large public and academic libraries. Joan Pedzich, Harris Beach, LLP, Rochester, NY

The answer to the question What if the best treatments are the cheapest? of course is, under our present system, they never become treatments, because their are no huge profits to be made. This is why we will have more and more not-for-profits jumping in the fill the market failures of the for-profit sector. (See: my post on the growth of the not-for-profit sector to fill traditional roles of the for profit sector.)

Other Related Posts:

Predictions for the Year 2007 part I

The System IS the Sickness

Dr. Mongkol na Songkhla is amazingly stupid or, in the unthinkable alternative, the Financial Times is biased

The Free Press, Famines and Disease Outbreaks

The Economist on Bio-terrorism

Is it a newspaper?

One thought on “Is it a newspaper?

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