Thursday, June 13, 2002

two thoughts on pharmaceutical patents Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

two thoughts on pharmaceutical patents Last night I was musing about the problem of pharmaceutical patents to my friend Brian. Without patents, I pointed out, we'd possibly have a lot less drug development. Brian, who's more sensible than I am, asked me what the "right" amount of drug development was. After all, we could incent further development by making patents last 50 years or forever. And we could incent more still by subsidizing pharmaceutical research with government grants (more than we do), or by offering massive cash bounties for successful new drugs. There's little limit on the amount of resources we could pour into drug development. Yet the fact that we don't indicates that it's possible to overincent research into certain areas, to reach a point where the costs of providing "proper" incentives outweigh the resulting benefits. Perhaps then our current system of 20-year patents overincents drug R&D. My point is that even if the absence of patent laws resulted in fewer drugs being developed, that absence might still be a good thing. Imagine that there were a law in place specifying that the first person to cure cancer was entitled to $1000 from every US Citizen. The repeal of that law would almost certainly slow down progress in finding a cure. (If this is hard to see, consider whether the presence of the law would speed up progress). And yet, we might decide, the law's repeal would be a Good Thing. I can't say for sure that we'd be better off with no drug patents and correspondingly less drug innovation. But it's at least a possibility. -- Also, my friend Chris Rasch suggests that his Wall Street Performer Protocol could be adapted to fund IP-less drug development. It's an interesting idea, and it's worth your while to read it. -- [And I know incent isn't a real word. But by the time I finish my thesis it will be, I promise.]

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