It’s a well-known fact that drug industries pursue patents with a zeal that few possess – after all, a patent in the hand is worth millions in the bank and a relative monopoly over the pharmaceutical market. They lobby for political support to push these patents through, even if they know that the drugs have not been tested thoroughly for their efficacy and safety.

This ardent rush and the intense lobbying done to be the first on the medical scene with a new, breakthrough wonder drug that turns out to be the goose that lays the company’s golden eggs is “simply unacceptable”, in the words of Thomas Pogge, Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs at Yale University. The academic, who spoke at length on the subject in his lecture titled, “Advanced Medicines: Must We Exclude the Global Poor?” at the Federation of European Pharmacological Societies (EPHAR) 2008 Congress hosted by the British Pharmacological Society at the University of Manchester and sponsored by AstraZeneca, said that the current patent system followed by the pharmaceutical industry and the tactics used by the industry to protect the system were not morally acceptable because they “violate the human rights of the poor by denying them access to vital medicines.”

In a humanitarian effort to bring down the mortality and morbidity rates found among the poor all over the world, the professor proposes an alternative licensing system which he has named the “Health Impact Fund” (HIF). The HIF seems to be more of an accessory than an alternative, with Prof. Pogge wanting governments across the globe to bankroll this initiative and offer the patent holder of any new medicine annual payments that are directly proportional to the global health impact of the medicine. In short, the more effective the drug is at alleviating the health problems of the world’s poor, the more lucrative it will be for the manufacturer.

While this is an altruistic model that also has the potential to be profitable for drug manufacturers, there’s just one major drawback – the assumption that drug companies are willing to even consider that there’s a moral aspect to their trade. All they seem to be looking for is instant and immense profits, and the larger their monopoly, the more the money they make before any side effects are found and a public outcry and subsequent pull-out ensue.

Prof. Pogge states that his model is bound to be both humanitarian and profitable for the drug companies, but the latter will not be willing to wait for the efficacy of their drug to be proved before they receive the windfall they think they deserve. Rather, they are all for pressurizing experts in the medical field to testify to the wonders that their drug can work, especially when it comes to controlling the symptoms of lifestyle diseases. We’ve seen and heard of cases where experts who wrote glowing testimonials of a cholesterol-lowering drug were found to have vested interests in the profitability of the drug since they themselves were shareholders in the company.

So you see, when it’s a question of a patent in the drug industry, man proposes and the big Pharma disposes!

This post was contributed by Guest Barista Kelly Kilpatrick, who writes on the subject of the top ten pharmacy schools. She invites your feedback at kellykilpatrick24 at gmail dot com.

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  1. […] Patent Baristas, guest blogger Kelly Kilpatrick examines a speech by Yale University’s Thomas Pogge that attacks the current patent system in …. Although Mr. Pogge proposes an alternative system, Ms. Kilpatrick does not believe it will work. […]