E-DRUG: Guardian article on Meningitis Patent (4)
It's always interesting to discuss such matters with people who confuse
abscissa and ordinate. [This comment confuses me too! Moderator]
The Soviet example is not just an N of 1, but an example of a huge
country with a well-educated population and a plethora of natural
resources that for 7 decades had a wide diversity of problems, of which
its meagre advances in medical technologies was but one.
There's an useful corollary to the point you're making: should an
individual of high net worth give his/her money to the poor to alleviate
their manifest problems and sufferings, or invest in an enterprise that
will create both wealth and jobs? My reading of history leads me to the
inference that the consequences of the latter are preferable.
So it is, in my view, with investment in medical R&D, the benefits of
which eventually reach to the ends of the earth. But there is an economic
reality underlying investment in medical R&D: it is high-risk investment,
because of long time-lines and many uncertainties. There is a capital
market for high-risk investment money, which operates on the premise that
success has brings high returns, when success occurs. If those returns
are undermined by compulsory licensing and other dreamy tinkerings with
the marketplace, then the high-risk money goes elsewhere than to R&D on
new medical technologies. Who benefits when that happens?
To deny the market economics of high-risk capital is to argue that water
will flow uphill if we want it to badly enough. Of course, we can turn
to the government to make up for the flight of high-risk capital from
medical R&D, but that is ... guess what? ... the Soviet model, which,
notwithstanding all that it had goind for it, failed.
John Urquhart MD FRCP (Edin)
Professor of Pharmaco-epidemiology
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