A new study finds that scientific breakthroughs are significantly as a result of collaboration. It used the development of five anti-cancer drugs to show how important researchers sharing information was, and it also strengthened the notion that beneficial scientific research tends to advance fastest when the results are fully open to view.
The study is evidence against the pharmaceutical research financing failure that is drug patent monopolies. Pharmaceutical corporations have an incentive to share as little of their research as possible to be granted their drug patent monopolies, as doing otherwise would risk threats to their profit margins through not receiving the patent. If the research findings are kept hidden from the public in this type of example, there is also a waste of resources to develop another similarly effective drug. This is notably seen with the Hepatitis C drug Sovaldi, which costs $84,000 for a 12 week course of treatment because the Gilead Sciences corporation has a patent monopoly on the drug. This is usefully contrasted with a high quality generic of Sovaldi selling for only $200 for the same three month course of treatment in India.
The U.S. government has the power to arrest people who sell Sovaldi in competition with Gilead Sciences, so the Abbvie corporation developed its own Hepatitis C cure drug known as Mavyret. Sovaldi was already an effective drug at curing Hepatitis C though, so the researchers that developed Mavyret could have been focused on other important research. This is, of course, a phenomenon that is continuously repeated with other drugs, and it prompts the logical conclusion of using a different system to finance pharmaceutical research.
A more ideal system would be to make drug patent monopolies illegal and have the U.S. government directly finance pharmaceutical research. The U.S. public already funds the National Institutes of Health with $30 billion annually, and even the pharmaceutical industry admits that is money well spent. PhRMA, the industry trade group, puts the amount that the pharmaceutical corporations spend on yearly research and development at only a somewhat higher total of $70 billion. This is in light of an important study revealing that pharmaceutical corporations spend more on stock buybacks that benefit the wealthy than they do on research and development. That is in light of the U.S. set to spend $450 billion (2.4 percent of GDP) on prescription drugs in 2017, an amount that would be $370 billion — half of the latest U.S. military budget approval — less if the patents and related unjust protections were removed from the pharmaceutical industry.
These large expenditures are especially significant considering that it’s been estimated that the U.S. will spend an even higher $610 billion a year on prescription drugs by 2021. With the current pharmaceutical system, that will mean that the U.S. could be spending about $120 billion on prescription drugs in 2021 instead of $610 billion.
The $370 billion possible to save currently though could be used in a variety of more productive ways than granting it to the pharmaceutical industry under the current financing system. For one example, the budget of the NIH could easily be boosted by a factor of five, making it $150 billion a year. What money remains is possible to spend on productive investment programs, such as an infrastructure project for clean and renewable energy. The U.S. economy is not doing that well for most of its people, but a significant improvement to that should be well-known — government investment to stimulate more demand.
The research done by the NIH could of course remain fully open for pharmaceutical companies and other organizations to use to develop drugs. Developed drugs could then be sold inexpensively without patent monopolies and the other unjust protections, which is how it should be done considering that prescription drugs are usually cheap to produce after their research process is completed. The firms developing valuable drugs should be rewarded for their innovative efforts, and they could be through the combination of a publicly-funded prize system and the demand of markets. That would almost certainly be a more beneficial system for the public interest than the current drug patent monopoly scandal, which is inefficient at advancing vital research and leaves many millions struggling to afford unnecessarily costly prescription drugs.