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Brazil Voids Merck Patent On AIDS Drug

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the developing-world-revolt dept.

Patents 765

JoeBackward writes "Merck has this useful anti-AIDS drug Elfavirenz, and Brazil has lots of poor people with AIDS. So, after trying really hard to get Merck to cooperate on pricing, the Brazilian government has decided to take a 'compulsory license' to the patent, and get the drug from a factory in India. This compulsory license is basically a way to take the patent by eminent domain." This move gives Brazil one more thing in common with Thailand, both of which have blocked YouTube. Thailand's compulsory licensing of Elfavirenz and Plavix has landed the country on the US's watch list for piracy.

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765 comments

humanity vs capitalism (5, Insightful)

drfrog (145882) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002569)

it s nice to see humanity win one for a change

who can really put a price on that?

Re:humanity vs capitalism (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19002593)

Yeah, because why should anyone be allowed to recoup the massive costs they incured in researching, developing, manufacturing, testing, and getting the drug approved?

After all, everyone knows that all of these drugs just grow on trees.

Re:humanity vs capitalism (5, Insightful)

drfrog (145882) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002627)

im not saying they shouldnt, but there is a difference between making a profit and gouging poor people for a drug they need

Re:humanity vs capitalism (2, Insightful)

jalet (36114) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002703)

if the costs were so huge and if they wanted to recoup these massive costs without sacrificing human beings at the same time, you wouldn't see this industry WASTE tons of money on things like congresses in 5 stars hotels all around the world, champagne and wonderful food for even the smallest meeting, and things like that, would you ?

And yes, I know what I'm talking about.

This industry, much like the MAFIAA, deserve to die. Human beings don't.

Re:humanity vs capitalism (2, Insightful)

iamacat (583406) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002769)

How are they going to recoup these costs from penniless AIDS patients? Property rights should only be enforced when the benefit of the owner from keeping the property is at least loosely comparable to advantages withheld from the public. Weather it's generic drugs for the poor, public access to privately owned scenic land, freely using commercial software for education or picking leftover fruit after the harvest, your property rights are not always absolute. Even government relocates people on the path of a new highway or in an unsustainable disaster zone.

Re:humanity vs capitalism (-1, Flamebait)

TheGavster (774657) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002903)

The drugs were developed under the expectation that someone would pay good money for them. Perhaps next time Brazil's poor infect themselves with something, Merck won't bother.

Re:humanity vs capitalism (3, Insightful)

The Analog Kid (565327) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002801)

It's okay, they will just do what they always do when countries around have price controls on medication, charge people in the US more than everyone else.

Re:humanity vs capitalism (5, Insightful)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002897)

Not all moves to place fetters on the free market are the result of the hidden agendas of slavering, bloody thirsty autocrats, despite the media's attempt to make it seem so. The free market will not feed the poor, or give them medication or save their lives, as none of those activities are profitable. Ideas that save human life are the property of every human alive, and I will fight until the day I die the rights of people to unreasonably profit from or withhold those ideas from humankind. Those of you about to jump in with "but who'd pay for the research" arguments, pull your pants back up and get away from me. I've heard them all before and written on the subject [mrnaz.com] many times. If our society cannot place a value on the saving of life itself, then we need to have a good, long, hard look at the belief that our society is the greatest one on Earth.

Re:humanity vs capitalism (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19002901)

The idea that someone has a divine right to recover sunk costs is quintissentially communist (google Karl Marx, Labor Theory of Value).

This is a WIN for free-market capitalism, where there shouldn't be patents in the first place.

I do think it's sad to see "anti globalisation" and "anti capitalist" protesters - they *should* be "anti corporate-socialism" protesters. What we have today is about as far from real capitalism as the USSR was from real communism.

Re:humanity vs capitalism (3, Informative)

TrnsltLife (779961) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002595)

Agreed. Good for them, it's good to see a country looking out for the welfare of its own citizens ahead of the profits of some multinational corporation.

Re:humanity vs capitalism (1)

mcpkaaos (449561) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002615)

Amen to that.

Re:humanity vs capitalism (1, Interesting)

rhombic (140326) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002697)

And Amen to giving more encouragement to the drug industry to further ignore the needs of the developing world. All the majors have pretty much halted work on antibiotics, anti-parasitics, and any other program that's not primarily focused at the health issues of fat white males. I'm not saying that poor people shouldn't have access to drugs, but when it costs $1,000,000,000 to develop a new drug, the investors will require their companies to focus on the needs of paying customers.

Re:humanity vs capitalism (1)

mcpkaaos (449561) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002729)

One look at the number of lobbyists and lawmakers on drug company payrolls is enough to realize that they don't give a shit about anyone, developing country or otherwise. Where'd you get your $1,000,000,000 figure, anyway?

Re:humanity vs capitalism (0, Redundant)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002841)

Why should a drug company spend money developing drugs for the third world? By voiding drug patents and buying cheap knockoffs, they killed the goose that laid the anti-parasitic egg.

Re:humanity vs capitalism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19002621)

Agreed. There is more to life than just profit, like staying alive for example.

Re:humanity vs capitalism (5, Insightful)

Jarjarthejedi (996957) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002625)

I have to agree on this one. Normally I'm against things like this because I personally feel that the more this stuff happens the less likely people are to work towards something, the whole private property issue. In this case, however, the pricing was just absurd, the company was not trying to make a slight profit by helping people (which I'm fine with) but way overcharging them. Good for Brazil.

Sure, it cost them a lot to make it. But this isn't a drug whose need is going to go away any time soon and trying to remake your investment quickly means that poor people can't buy something that can save their life. Crix whatever should've been priced in such a way so that 10-12 years down the road they began making a profit, not so that they start making profit almost immediately. I mean, what investor wouldn't invest in an AIDS drug just because they're not likely to recoup their losses within a year? We all know AIDS is going to be around for a while, cut your prices so that more people can get it.

But hey, just my opinion. Hopefully Brazil can start getting cheap crix out in their country and save some lives.

Re:humanity vs capitalism (2, Insightful)

trout007 (975317) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002817)

AIDS will be around a lot longer than the patent for this drug. They have to recoupe their expenses for development and marketing before the patent runs out. I would like to see the whole patent system done away with. But you would also have to do away with the FDA and let people be free and responsible for what they put in their body. But that's just me.

Re:humanity vs capitalism (0)

j1mmy (43634) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002889)

The fundamental problem is that these cheap drugs aren't going to stay in Brazil. If they can be made overseas and shipped back to the first world more cheaply than they can be made in the first world, they'll end up on the black market and cut into the sales of the patented drugs being sold.

Re:humanity vs capitalism (4, Insightful)

JeanBaptiste (537955) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002629)

... but it took capitalism to create the formula for the drug in the first place ... without capitalism _nobody_ would get this drug. so i'd say its not humanity vs capitalism, rather humanity benefiting from capitalism, and brazil and thailand aren't helping any.

Re:humanity vs capitalism (4, Insightful)

drfrog (145882) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002657)

capitalism itself didnt create it

knowledge did

peopel living in the capitalist state took advantage of the fact they had that knowledge

Re:humanity vs capitalism (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002923)

Please provide a list of drugs developed in non-capitalist countries in the last 10 years.

If it's a short list, it's because you're wrong or everyone with any knowledge leaves for a capitalist country.

Re:humanity vs capitalism (0)

statusbar (314703) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002695)

Since when was america a capitalist country??? All I see now is a huge shift to National Socialism with the increased presence of government granted monopolies.

--jeffk++

Re:humanity vs capitalism (1)

Truekaiser (724672) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002789)

no that's not socialism. what Brazil did was socialism, looking out for the welfare of it's own people.
the type of government your thinking of is called 'fascism' when the corporation and the state have basically merged and the state cares about nothing but helping corporations.

Re:humanity vs capitalism (1)

ATMD (986401) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002869)

You mean Nazism, right? Granted, certain civil liberties have been eroded, but I don't think things are that bad yet...

This is a very slippery slope -when does this end? (3, Insightful)

spineboy (22918) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002803)

These countries are treading on a slippery slope. At what point is it OK now to not pay for the hard work of other people, or to begin to directly steal from them? If this happens enough the company will go bankrupt as correctly pointed out by the parent comment. There will always be someone else who can justify why their need is to get/steal/borrow what they need to a greater and greater extent.
Yes I know that giant pharm firms spend a lot on advertising, but it also costs approximately one Billion dollars to get a single new drug to the marketplace (that's $1,000,000,000 !!)

Pricing is a problem for the third world countries, probably because it takes so many resources to make that product.
Now please pay attention - I'm not saying that Brazil is unjustified in it's taking of the drug and helping those people, but rather that there needs to be some limits so that this behavior is not abused, and ruins it for everyone. This sounds like a good problem for the U.N.

Re:humanity vs capitalism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19002647)

Humanity has achieved a victory here, but certainly not against capitalism, unless your definition of a working capitalism includes automatically granted guarded-by-state monopolies.

Re:humanity vs capitalism (1)

drfrog (145882) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002685)

how about corporate fuedalism then?

Re:humanity vs capitalism (0, Troll)

emarkp (67813) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002711)

We put prices on such things all the time. Humanity has lost on this one. Where do you think the research for the next AIDS drug will come from?

As cruel as you apparently think capitalism is, it's more cruel to take away the motivation to do the research. Ironically, if Brazilians could just keep it in their pants, AIDS would disappear in a generation. But no, apparently it's more fair in your opinion to take from a company that's trying to help people.

Maybe doctors and nurses shouldn't be paid either--I mean shouldn't they be helping for free?

As cruel as capitalism seems to you, it's less cruel than any other economic system.

Re:humanity vs capitalism (5, Interesting)

rewinn (647614) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002767)

>Where do you think the research for the next AIDS drug will come from?

Mostly funded by taxpayers, then handed over to Big Pharma, as usual.

"...the pharmaceutical industry is not especially innovative. As hard as it is to believe, only a handful of truly important drugs have been brought to market in recent years, and they were mostly based on taxpayer-funded research at academic institutions, small biotechnology companies, or the National Institutes of Health (NIH)."The Truth About the Drug Companies by Marcia Angell [nybooks.com]

Re:humanity vs capitalism (1)

drfrog (145882) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002839)

the research always comes from a basic need to supply people with medicines they need

captialism only hinders that, by delaying it production and distribution based on the need to generate profits, not seeing itself as succeeding based on people it has cured

Re:humanity vs capitalism (2, Insightful)

emarkp (67813) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002925)

No, the research always comes from a basic need to supply people with medicines at a price that will let the producers feed their families.

I'm always confused by people who see it as humane to steal from one group to give to another. Maybe you could give your own money to the people who need it to pay for the drugs they need?

(Oh, and I love how my post has been moderated as a Troll, simply because someone disagrees with me. That comment was on topic, not trolling.)

Re:humanity vs capitalism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19002865)

Where do you think the research for the next AIDS drug will come from?

From another company who charges a fair price. Brazil tried to negotiate a lower price for the drugs. The lower price would have still allowed the company to profit, but just not profit obscenely.

  Some of these AIDS drugs cost $150/year to manufacture the drugs, including overhead from the previous research. The drug company will then turn around, sense the desperation of those dying from aids, and charge them $15,000 for a years supply of the drug. How much will a starving father pay for a loaf of bread to feed his family? Using people's desperation to artificially inflate the price of AIDS drugs is sick.

Not to mention that much of AIDS research is the funded through government grants. Other research depends on some of this government-funded research. Why can the companies then take this free research, patent the drugs, and charge an obscene price?

Re:humanity vs capitalism (1)

Timesprout (579035) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002771)

I doubt this has a whole lot to do with humanity. The Brazillian economy is fucked, they are up to their eyeballs in debt, so much so they are struggling to even make the interest repayments. They have a large AIDS population and simply cant afford the drugs. Doing this gives them a cheap PR win, and I suppose lets them thumb their noses at the world a bit given the situation they now find themselves again. If I recall correctly they did something similar several years ago when they turned round to the IMF and told them to re-adjust Brazils debt or they would deliberately default on the lot, not that it seems to have benefited them greatly at this point.

Re:humanity vs capitalism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19002811)

The Brazillian economy is fucked
Not really. It has been stable for more than 15 years, it surely could be better but your piece of text was incorrect.

Re:humanity vs capitalism (2, Insightful)

slughead (592713) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002879)

it s nice to see humanity win one for a change

who can really put a price on that?


*Raises hand* OOh! I can!

The number of years added to the lives of the Brazilians who get this drug at a reduced cost will be subtracted several times over from future AIDS victims who would have otherwise have had better drugs available due to the added research dollars.

In short, adding 10 days more life now = subtracting 20 days more life in the future (arbitrary but realistic figure). People who want to ban patents on drugs are either selfish or stupid, because they are basically killing future generations by choking off pharmaceutical research dollars.

Oh, and by the way, this is not the first time Brazil has done this with AIDS medications. I'm not sure why it's getting press now... Just thought I'd add that.

Honestly, the populations in Brazil who would most benefit from AIDS medication probably wouldn't have the scratch to pay the full price. However, this WILL lead to other countries doing the same thing. If enough of them do, people will stop investing in pharmaceutical research because there wont be any ROI.

What the drug companies should be able to do is sell these to Brazil at cost, as a form of price discrimination. However, if that were to happen, AIDS victims in the US and other countries who could otherwise afford to pay the real cost of these meds would simply fly to Brazil, pick up their prescriptions, and fly back (which would be cheaper).

By saying that these drugs are "counterfeit", the American drug companies can keep these cheap drugs from coming back to the United States at these low prices, which would be disastrous for drug companies, and indeed, future generations afflicted with AIDS. In truth, the drug companies may not care that Brazil does this, though they'll certainly try and keep 'rich' western countries from doing the same thing.

Whether the companies are good or evil is irrelevant, because they have no choice but to sell these drugs at the same price in every country. Just look at what the [relatively] rich Americans do: buy from Canada and Mexico. If we made this practice illegal (which I think is wrong, but bare with me here), only then could we see the true colors of American Pharma. They probably would be 'giving it away' in the 3rd world nations, if for PR if nothing else.

Somebody has to pay for the future of pharmacology, and the U.S. looks to be it.

Re:humanity vs capitalism (0, Troll)

Saint V Flux (915378) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002887)

Yes, because it didn't cost anything to do all the tons and tons of research and testing (not to mention the cost of education for all the scientists) to produce the drug.

This is why I hate slashdot. It's full of communist bastards who think that just because they want something that they have a right to take it by force. Without capitalism, that drug wouldn't exist.

Go ahead, mod me down for standing up for freedom. You'll only prove my point.

The easy way out. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19002583)

""Merck has this useful anti-AIDS drug Elfavirenz, and Brazil has lots of poor people with AIDS. So, after trying really hard to get Merck to cooperate on pricing, the Brazilian government has decided to take a 'compulsory license' to the patent, and get the drug from a factory in India. This compulsory license is basically a way to take the patent by eminent domain.""

So let me ask the obvious question that no one else will. Why didn't Brazil do the research, create it's own AIDS drug, and accept liability for any consequences?

Re:The easy way out. (1, Interesting)

ZachPruckowski (918562) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002639)

Because developing an AIDs drug costs billions, but making it costs pennies. Merck can already rake in the cash on this stuff from first world countries. This is the "these people would never buy it anyways" subset of piracy, and while it makes sense when we're talking about movies to say "They shouldn't get them at all then", we're talking about lives here.

Re:The easy way out. (1)

ushering05401 (1086795) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002919)

I agree with you mostly, but the concept that the 'first world' should be held accountable for compensating the companies is just wrong.

Viruses spread without regard to income or borders. Education can only do so much to prevent a disease like AIDS, and even less with regards to more virulent infections of which there are many.

If ever open source, community funded development was needed it is needed in the fight against illness. It is completely unreasonable that this research & its results are being ransomed at a U.S. pay scale under U.S. patent laws.

Regards.

Re:The easy way out. (1)

Jarjarthejedi (996957) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002661)

Well lets see.

A) That would easily take 10+ years, they need the drug now

B) Brazil likely doesn't have the drug making infrastructure necessary to even start making AIDS drugs without 5+ years building

C) The odds of any drug beating AIDS is huge

So you want them to spend 15+ years working in hope that they can maybe get a drug working when there's a great one sitting on the market right now?

Re:The easy way out. (0)

Man On Pink Corner (1089867) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002745)

So you want them to spend 15+ years working in hope that they can maybe get a drug working when there's a great one sitting on the market right now?

Yeah, because the one that's just passively "sitting" on the market right now didn't just drop out of the sky, for free. Somebody spent the "10+ years" it took to create the drug. Somebody invested in the "drug-making infrastructure necessary to even start making AIDS drugs." Somebody took the risks needed to overcome the "odds of any drug beating AIDS."

So, yeah, I do want the Brazilians to spend 15+ years working on a drug, if the alternative is stealing the work of the people who did exactly that.

If you keep punishing the people who actually invest and produce, then you shouldn't be surprised when you eventually run out of good stuff to rip off.

Re:The easy way out. (1)

RightSaidFred99 (874576) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002665)

Hmm.. Trenchant insight there. Maybe because, I don't know, people are dying? And "creating your own drug" isn't something you just sit down for a few days, months, or even years and do?

I'm not saying it's just OK to confiscate drug formulations, pharmaceuticals is one of the very few areas where patents are generally a good thing, but in some cases it may be a legitimate national response. I'm sure they measured the consequences and are willing to pay the price from the fallout.

Re:The easy way out. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19002687)

Because they're too busy farming your coffee and sewing your clothes for $3 a month?

Idiot.

Re:The easy way out. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19002691)

because they are obviously a nation filled with poor that don't have anything approaching the resources to do this kind of research

Re:The easy way out. (1)

normuser (1079315) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002737)

because this one already exists, its effects are known, it would help alot of their citizens, and they know how to make it.

So, why should they NOT copy Elfavirenz? (and no "intellectual property" doesn't matter)

Re:The easy way out. (2, Insightful)

frakfrakfrak (1049468) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002779)

So let me ask the obvious question that no one else will. Why didn't Brazil do the research, create it's own AIDS drug, and accept liability for any consequences?
Because while they did that, thousands of people would get AIDS and thousands of people would die. Considering just how much of meds research is actually done on the government's dime through grants or work done in universities, the whole "We'd never have money for research if we weren't charging you your median income to live" aspect of AIDS drugs is pure evil.

Besides, even though they're not White Anglo-Saxon American Protestants, most Brazilians are people (some, of course, are special haircuts in your no-no zone), and if I have to choose between a lot of people dying and a bunch of lying thieves (converting gov't research money into private intellectual property for mega-corporations is evil in my opinion) getting richer, well, I'm going to pick the people (some of whom are always also going to be lying thieves), because I'm like that.

Honestly, though, it's the 21st century. As a race, humanity can do so much more for each other than this. Shrill cries of, "Let's give Merck our cash!" or "Pure capitalism would have fixed this!" just bother me. Capitalism is a good system, but it isn't magical, and we should try to avoid using it to price out a human life, or its span. Can we always avoid that? No, we're not on Star Trek. But it's nice to occasionally give it a try.

Re:The easy way out. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19002859)

"converting gov't research money into private intellectual property for mega-corporations is evil in my opinion"

Ah stop this bullshit ... it is no coincidence that great majority of progress in this field is made in countries where private research and development is responsible for progress.

Re:The easy way out. (1)

Howpostsgetratedsuck (612917) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002795)

Good arguement but the world is not so black and white. I'm sure U.S. offshore drilling of Venezuela will commence in a few years, of couse in "international" waters. Laws (including patent law) will be ignored if they are not in a nations best interest. Welcome to the real world. Don't worry Merck will be fine. They're not going to take their ball and go home. They'll make it up by charging more somewhere else.

Re:The easy way out. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19002861)

"So let me ask the obvious question that no one else will. Why didn't Brazil do the research, create it's own AIDS drug, and accept liability for any consequences?"

What liability? It is only in US where drug manufacturers get sued the shit out of and have to actually worry about it.

youtube (5, Insightful)

gargletheape (894880) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002597)

you know what else Brazil and Thailand have in common? A boisterous tourism industry and hot girls. Seriously, what does youtube have to do with this story?

Re:youtube (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19002843)

as a matter of fact, brazil stopped blocking youtube three days after the ban was actually set. And not all ISPs complied with the ruling, only one, Brasil Telecom, which is responsible for broadbrand in all southern states.

bullshit (3, Insightful)

teknopurge (199509) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002599)

this is not about humanity. the only reason this drug even exists is becuase money was able to be spent on R&D to create or discover the compound. Brazil has just put another nail in the coffin of innovation by this move: if a company cannot make money from a discovery or invention the amount of both will decline.

Re:bullshit (1)

Truekaiser (724672) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002693)

no your logic is *%&*^%(.
think for a minute and you will see that the religion you hold dear, 'worship of the all might dollar aka capitalism'. was invented when there was no such thing as patents existed, but by your perverse logic it would not of happened.
in fact humans seem to have done very well for the hundreds of thousands of years before such a thing called a 'patent' or 'trademarking' or 'copyright' existed.

Innovation is pretty safe (4, Insightful)

TimTucker (982832) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002713)

As they say: necessity is the mother of innovation. As long as we have a need for medicine, someone's going to do the research to look for it. It may become less easy to justify spending millions in funding and make millions in profits off of discoveries, but that doesn't mean that innovation will stop.

Re:Innovation is pretty safe (1)

Tickletaint (1088359) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002815)

No, but do you honestly believe it wouldn't happen much, much slower? Few of the brightest minds in medicine are lucky enough to be able to devote themselves heroically and selflessly to their work in the manner of a Jonas Salk. Innovation will always happen, yes, but the point here is that we want to encourage it to happen sooner.

Re:Innovation is pretty safe (1)

bheer (633842) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002857)

> As they say: necessity is the mother of innovation.

Actually, it's "necessity is the mother of *invention*" and any serious student of innovation knows that phrase is very misleading and very often not the case. If you want to learn more, Joel Mokyr's The Lever of Riches [google.com] has many examples (and is a good read anyway).

Re:bullshit (1)

CosmeticLobotamy (155360) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002763)

the only reason this drug even exists is becuase money was able to be spent on R&D to create or discover the compound.

True, and for the record, I think this situation sucks from any angle. But maybe if they just set their price a little lower, they would be making more money than they will be now, and they wouldn't make people hate them.

Doing it over and over will kill innovation. Doing it a few times is tough love.

In any case, I think Merck's $4 billion in annual profits will keep them from having to pleasure businessmen in dark alleys for research money.

Right back at ya (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19002781)

Most drugs are the result of publicly funded research. The drug companies mostly pay for trials, not basic research. They also create new drugs by making small changes to old drugs just so they can continue patent monopolies.

How about a new going back to the era before Regan for this radical concept: greed isn't good. If someone is able to use our society to enrich themselves, they have a social responsibility.

USA Today [usatoday.com]

Merck shares sank 30% after the company pulled its profitable Vioxx pain reliever off the market Sept. 30 because of safety concerns. Directors conceded that operating results were below target but gave Ray Gilmartin a $1.4 million bonus after deciding that he'd met his "personal performance objectives." Gilmartin also received options that Merck's proxy says are valued at $19.2 million. He also pocketed $34.8 million exercising options. With Vioxx's revenue stream still dry, Merck directors are lowering the performance bar for 2005 incentive pay. "Merck's focus is now on the future, on renewing the growth of the company," spokesman Chris Loder says. Coleman says: "What's troubling is that most directors still aren't holding management accountable for bad circumstances. When is a bad event not the responsibility of management?"
Paying fortunes to executives who really performing very well is just a form of corruption.

Re:bullshit (4, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002791)

Brazil wanted to give them some money.
Mereck said no so Brazil took it to save the lives of its people.
Considering its a global company, They should have taken Brazils offer and looked to Europe and N.America to recover costs.
OTOH, since Merick wouldn't sell to Brazil anyways, there not actually loosing money now, are they?

Re:bullshit (1)

onion2k (203094) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002825)

Perhaps you're right. Personally, I'd rather companies didn't bother innovating if the fruits of their research is a way to leech money from the poor and the sick. We have a thing called 'ethics'. If you ignore the ethics of selling something then people will look for ways around you and your business methods. It's not like the Brazilian government ignored the patent: they tried to negotiate a price they could afford. The only reason they had to resort to this was the company refusing to offer a low enough price. Why did they do that? Greed. Plain and simple. The drug can clearly be made at a low enough price because there's an alternative supply.

Grabbing as much money as possible, at the expensive of your humanity, shouldn't be your life goal. If it is then you should reevaluate your outlook on things.

Re:bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19002831)

Try to say that to someone who can not afford to buy a medicine. Such a stereotype!!

Re:bullshit (1)

Original Replica (908688) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002833)

yeah, cause none of that R&D money was raised by charities, or given over in the form of government grants or anything that might actually require holding the public good over giant profits. When big pharma doesn't get any tax breaks or grants or other public support, then and only then can they whine about "but.. but.. that was MY r&d." No you greedy fucks, all those charity dollars into AIDS research makes it public goods fromt he outset, especially when you price gouge a developing country.

Re:bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19002837)

So, let me get this straight:

Government exercises eminent domain over dozens of homes, so that it can sell the land to a corporation, who will build a (higher tax value) factory / mall / whatever: OK
Government exercises eminent domain over dozens of homes, so that it can build a new road, so that it's easier to drive into the city (rather than taking public transportation): OK
Government exercises eminent domain over a patent, so that people who would otherwise be unable to afford a life-saving treatment may have it available to them: "Another nail in the coffin of innovation"

Thanks for clearing that up.

Re:bullshit (1)

Red_Winestain (243346) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002849)

this is not about humanity. the only reason this drug even exists is becuase money was able to be spent on R&D to create or discover the compound. Brazil has just put another nail in the coffin of innovation by this move: if a company cannot make money from a discovery or invention the amount of both will decline

R&D expenditures are far, far less than advertizing expenditures, and drug companies are making substantial profits and would do so even if drugs cost far less (Reference [nybooks.com] ). If you know any physicians, ask them how often they are taken out to lunch/dinner at fancy restaurants, how often they get free vacations, how often they get tickets to luxury boxes at sporting events, etc, etc, etc.

Not at all (1)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002909)

No, sorry, it's all about humanity. In particular, it's about a government doing what is right for its own people.

For the record, I generally agree with the principle of intellectual property as a practical approach. It's not the only principle I might agree with, and I don't like some of the current implementation details in some places, but on balance I think copyright, patents and the like serve their intended purpose more often than not.

However, they are artificial monopolies, and monopoly holders are not subject to the usual economic competition in a capitalist market. It is therefore necessary for governments to regulate them, on behalf of the people, if those monopolies are abused. This is true of everything from energy and transport providers (where regulation is the norm in many countries where the services are not state-owned anyway) to copyright holders (where copyright is usually not absolute, and there are typically exemptions for fair use, fair dealing or whatever your jurisdiction calls it). The most common examples of such abuse are probably using a monopoly in one industry to force an artificial commercial advantage in an unrelated industry, and charging disproportionate prices.

The argument holds just as true for medicines. If the government of Brazil has made a good faith effort to negotiate a realistic price for the drug on behalf of its people, and Merck have refused to co-operate, then the government of Brazil is absolutely within both its moral and its legal rights to overrule Merck's patent in the interests of its people. No-one died and left either US IP law or US corporations in charge of the rest of the world, much as the collective arrogance of US big business would like that to be so.

Your argument about prevention of new inventions would have a lot of truth to it if this was a case of someone spending the money up-front on R&D, asking only a fair price for the results, and others refusing to pay. But I'm betting that's not the case here, and the price being demanded was in fact vastly greater than the proportionate costs incurred during R&D. If you read TFA and compare what Merck were demanding from Brazil with what they accepted from Thailand, you'll see what I mean. In other words, your point about companies not being able to make money from their inventions simply isn't true; they just aren't being allowed to make arbitrarily large amounts of money, at the expense of human lives. I'm sorry if you have a problem with that, but I really don't think most of us do.

Re:bullshit (1)

kebes (861706) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002915)

Okay, no one is going to argue with your conclusion that "without money, companies cannot research new drugs." However that still leaves wide open these questions:

1. Is it actually safe and sane to leave the future of our medical well-being to the interests of companies?

2. Are patents the most effective way to get that "incentive money" into the hands of the corporations?

With regard to #1, most people would answer "no" which is why so much non-corporate medical research is funded. However it's generally assumed that a purely government-funded medical research infrastructure would be bad because it could not draw upon the innovative power of market competition (where drug companies compete to make the best products). That's fair enough, but it should be noted that patents (a government-granted monopoly), though encouraging innovation at times, are also frequently abused by these companies to stifle the competition (hence innovation) that they are supposedly spurring.

With regard to #2, it's a difficult question, but not one that should be pushed aside without hesitation. Patents are one way to get market money into corporations. However government-granted funds are another way (and to those who, again, don't want the government interfering with the free market, I remind you that patents are already government regulation of that market, with an associated economic cost to the people).

I'm not saying I have all the answers. But I think this current case in Brazil is one salient example of how patents can do real harm (in addition to the good they were intended to do). Thus, it is our moral imperative as concerned citizens to start a discourse on whether patents really, truly, are the best way to encourage medical research. What we need is serious research into alternatives, and then to come up with whether the alternative or the status quo will really bring us the greatest benefits.

(I know, I know... I'm a hopeless dreamer.)

I patent me a steak... (0)

frakir (760204) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002603)

There is a reason you can not patent a culinary recipe.
Why then recipe for some chemical (or biochemical) compound could be patented?

Re:I patent me a steak... (1)

TheMeuge (645043) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002707)

Because it costs many millions of dollars to develop a pharmaceutical, and many more millions to hold numerous clinical trials to verify its effectiveness and safety.

Most basic research is conducted using public money anyway, but applied research is something else. Unless the U.S. government is willing to finance ALL stages of drug discovery via NIH, they can't expect private companies to undertake fantastic risks and expenses, if their profits are not guaranteed.

I am not saying that what pharmaceutical companies do to maximize profits and control their monopolies is entirely kosher, but same can be said for most other industries that are vital. So while we may push for reform and institute tight regulations over this industry (very logical things to do when talking about something that directly affects lives), let's not call them names for manufacturing the drugs that keep us alive.

Good for Brazil (1)

Rik Sweeney (471717) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002607)

Patenting drugs that essentially exploit the poor and/or the third world is wrong. I appreciate that finding cures for diseases such as AIDS is incredibly hard work, time consuming and very expensive, but that doesn't give anyone the right to hold the world hostage.

Hopefully we'll see this happening with software patents in the next few months.

Re:Good for Brazil (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19002733)

That's exactly why capitalism should have no place in medicine. It's evil to hold people's lives and health hostage to make a profit.

Re:Good for Brazil (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19002853)

If you actually see more patent piracy happening in the next few months you will also see the same old drugs for years to come.

The drug companies have a product, you want the product, they name a price, you pay if you can afford and if you want. This is plain business as usual.

Re:Good for Brazil (1)

Timesprout (579035) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002891)

Would Brazil be in this position if they had provided more health care and better education to their citizens. How much would a few million condoms have cost them compared what the pharmcos charge?

But... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19002609)

If we take away the incentive of patents, people will stop researching medicine, stop writing software, stop building devices, and retreat to the nearest cave where they will live out their short remaining time on Earth drinking rancid water dripping from cracks in the ceiling.

This is one horrible blow to humanity.

"Black Box" Drugs? (4, Interesting)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002613)

I wonder what the endgame might be out of situations like this.

Right now, my understanding is that to produce and get approval for a drug, you need to release its chemical formula and other information about it.

But I wonder if at some point in the future, if the drug companies get too worried about their profits due to genericization in countries like Thailand and Brazil, that they might try to implement some sort of "drug DRM." Rather than making the composition of the drug open, don't release what's actually in it, and just test it as a 'black box,' show empirically through tests that it's effective and reasonably safe, but dope the actual pills with a lot of random substances that make it difficult to reverse-engineer (or have the actual drug only be something that's produced in the body through subtle combinations of various things in the pill, or keep the methods of producing the various chemicals in the pills a secret). I'm sure there are lots of bizarre ways that the drug companies could think up to protect the compositions.

Now, I'm not saying that any of these schemes would be effective at protecting the composition -- if the market for a generic drug is big enough, the labs in Thailand can probably afford to spend a lot of time with a mass spectrometer/gas chromatograph and unravel it, but that doesn't mean the drug companies wouldn't try, and waste a lot of time and effort in the process.

As we've seen in the battles over digital IP, there are a whole lot of things that can end up as collateral damage in the fights between rightsholders who see the gravy train slowing down, and people who want their products at a lower price than is being offered.

Re:"Black Box" Drugs? (5, Insightful)

haluness (219661) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002773)

> Rather than making the composition of the drug open, don't release what's actually in it,
> and just test it as a 'black box,' show empirically through tests that it's effective and
> reasonably safe, but dope the actual pills with a lot of random substances that make it
> difficult to reverse-engineer

I really can't forsee any form of DRM for chemical compounds. It's quite like DRM for music - at one point the music has to be played on a speaker. Similarly, if you're going to make a drug, you're going to have to give the pill out at which point you have the whole field of analytical chemistry (mass spec, HPLC etc) at your disposal!

Furthermore, adding random substances to it, doesn't really hinder the identification process - they'd just show up as separate peaks on the spectrum. In addition randomly adding substances to a drug mixture would probably mess up pharmacokinetics which would have to be restudied all over again.

Unfortunately the chemical world is a little bit messier than the digital world :)

Re:"Black Box" Drugs? (1)

spikeb (966663) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002775)

Simple solution to hiding important information: raid their offices.

Greed (1, Interesting)

shuz (706678) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002617)

Ultimately drug companies do need to make a buck too. How are drug companies supposed to effectively control supply and demand to drive up prices if countries like Brazil just get drugs as they please. I suppose this is also a good argument against outsourcing the production of your drugs to countries that are not within your control or goverments that are not on your payroll. Sad...

Re:Greed (1)

dynamo52 (890601) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002863)

I suppose this is also a good argument against outsourcing the production of your drugs to countries that are not within your control or gover[n]ments that are not on your payroll. Sad...

What is sad is that pharmaceuticals have governments (especially the US federal govt) on their payroll.

Re:Greed (1)

backwardMechanic (959818) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002921)

Greed indeed. On the part of Merck. If the US or the UK were to issue a comulsory license, Merck et al would have an arguement. Not in Brasil. Brasil has a serious potential problem and they're spending big money trying to contain it. They tried to negotiate with Merck but didn't get the price they wanted (the price Merck offered Thailand). Differential pricing of the same drugs in different countries is regular practice - it's not hard, and is something Merck already do - that's a red herring. As is outsourcing.

Brasil has exercised a right granted by the WTO, putting the health of its citizens first. Good for Brasil, and good luck to them.

Brazil probably not going on the watchlist (1)

SpeedyDX (1014595) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002619)

Thailand has ... let's just say limited impact on the U.S. economy. Brazil is a much larger trading partner than Thailand is. Probably not a wise political move to censure them.

Anyway, it's nice to see human life valued over financial values for a change.

Blocking Youtube? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19002631)

WTF does blocking Youtube have to do with anything related to this article?

Moreover, Thailand did it for profit, Brazil did it for saving lives of their own people. There's a huge difference. It's good to see that at least Brazil govt., unlike GWB, knows what the right thing to do is, when it comes to protecting and saving lives of their own.

Eventually drug companies will stop selling (1)

gelfling (6534) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002651)

Any drugs to these countries and they'll be forced to reverse engineer everything from AIDS drugs to chemotherapy to antibiotics. Viva La Revolucion!

nonsense (3, Insightful)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002663)

what happened was this: merck had the AIDS drug and Brazil tried to negotiate it at what they could afford, merck declined, Brazil then told merck to screw themselves and got the drug anyway. it isn't so much an attack on merck's ability to make money off its own research as it is the idiot practice of denying DYING people medical treatment for the sake of said profit. moral of story: better to negotiate then to be bypassed.

Re:nonsense (1)

slazzy (864185) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002827)

The important thing to remember is that the profit will be used to create new and better drugs - maybe even one that will actually cure AIDS. Even the profit that is returned to shareholders will cause more interest from more investors in the future, and that money will create future medical breakthroughs. I can totally see the Brazil side of the situation as well though, they have people dying NOW and simply cannot afford to pay the full cost of the medication. Very interesting situation.

Re:nonsense (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002893)

What level of profit would you find acceptable? For instance, I eat food that I like rather than a subsistence diet, so I personally could be doing more to help other people in the world, but I'm not. Is this immoral?

I live in Brazil, Youtube was never blocked here. (4, Informative)

had3l (814482) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002683)

I remember seeing that "Brazil blocks Youtube" thing on slashdot, but seriously, I tested it back then, and there was no block, I talked to everyone I know, and they also noted no block. Not that one wasn't issued though, it probably was never enforced.

It was a BS case anyway, it was a public beach, everyone was there to see them having sex. If anyone was breaking the law, they were. Of course, with the justice system here as corrupt and moronic as it is, those kinds of rulings aren't surprising. Believe me though, 100% of the Brazilian people would be against any sort of ban.

IP vs. Humanity (1, Insightful)

Original Replica (908688) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002705)

This just highlights in a new way, how far wrong we have gone with our patient system. Imagine if Salk had demanded a premium for his polio vaccine, the US government would have taken it under the same premises. The same if the patient holder for Biothrax had withheld rights from the US government for the anthrax vaccine in 2002. But wait those are brown people, foreigners dying from a disease with a social stigma, so let's call them thieves.

Re:IP vs. Humanity (1)

RightSaidFred99 (874576) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002765)

They are thieves, this part is simple. However it's probably justified thievery in this case. I don't hold it against them as long as they tried, in good faith, to negotiate a deal with Merck first.

See, the problem with your analogies is that they're simply wrong. Let me give you a better analogy. Merck finds some basic research that looks promising that can provide a one-shot complete cure to HIV. However, it will cost $10 billion to develop. They think for a minute... "hmm.. if we do this, will we get our money back? Last time, Brazil fucked us. Nah, fuck it - let's spend the money on a new heartburn medication, some new floppy dick medicine, and maybe a few small changes in formulation to some of our crazy pills".

Again - Brazil may have been justified in this, but it's not clear cut that they can just take what they want because people are dying from a (sorry) preventable disease and they don't want to pay the bill.

Mandatory link to TalkLikeAPirateDay .... (1)

rewinn (647614) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002731)

Argh Matey - Brazil Be a-Savin' Yer Scalliwageous Lives! http://www.talklikeapirate.com/ [talklikeapirate.com]

(Seriously, why make them walk the plank just for being humanitarian?)

U.S. Congress looking at reimportation... (1)

ushering05401 (1086795) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002739)

Again. Last time the use of generics derailed the debate. Who knows what will happen this time, but the issue dovetails nicely.

Regards.

YouTube vs. 100-million AIDS victims??? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19002749)

This move gives Brazil one more thing in common with Thailand, both of which have blocked YouTube.

This is a warped comparison... AIDS will hill hundreds of millions of people in our lifetime. YouTube is a floofy website. AIDS will still be a problem in 20 years. YouTube probably won't exist.

How are these two situations related, exactly? Are you trying to make some comparison because both involve "Intellectual Property"? If so, you failed.

Short Term vs Long Term (0, Troll)

Pap22 (1054324) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002777)

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&si d=aAHMaYgcQA4o&refer=home [bloomberg.com]

Brazil will save $30 million this year by purchasing the generic, compared with $42.9 million it would otherwise pay Merck. Brazil will spend 4.2 billion reais ($2.07 billion) on the purchase of all medicines this year, which accounts for 12 percent of the ministry's total budget, Temporao said.

This is a drop in the bucket for Brazil's budget. By satisfying their short term budget needs, they have seriously jeopardized the incentive of pharmaceutical companies to produce useful drugs over the long term.

Piracy? (1)

SharpFang (651121) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002787)

Yeah... we can't allow people go violate intellectual property in order to do such trivial and insignificant things as saving lives. Pirates beware, your illegal live-saving activity won't go unpunished!

Atlas Shrugged (0, Flamebait)

N8F8 (4562) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002799)

Brazil, Thailand, Venezuela...you take away the incentive to to research for a profit and you take away the reason to do it at all. If those socialists really wanted to do it right they could at least have their own government subsidize the drug costs.

You can be sure that countries in us piracy list (1)

unity100 (970058) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002855)

is taking the situation very grave, very seriously.

..... NOT !.

actually they dont give a jack.

Not every country has the twisted legal system and ethics to allow THUGS like RIAA, drug patent abusers get exceedingly rich in the expense of people's suffering.

I can't object to this... (1)

gnurfed (1051140) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002871)

... IF the price Merck was asking for the drug was really disproportionate to the typical Brazilian's income. I do understand that drug companies must price their drugs high enough to get return on their investments, but when it comes to these poor nations I don't think they're doing themselves any favors.

I'm not a biochemist, but I can't imagine it being too hard to mark pills sent to country X with some kind of safe chemical marker. Then tell the government of country X that you'll continue to provide these drugs at a proportional price as long as they can keep them inside their own borders. That should be incentive enough for these governments to take steps against smuggling and so forth. If not, and large quantities of marked pills pop up elsewhere, I'd say sanctions are warranted.

Wouldn't that be a win-win?

Reality, 1. Drug Companies, 0. (1)

cephalien (529516) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002877)

We don't have to like Brazil, or Thailand, or any of those other countries that block YouTube. I don't like it, and it's just blocking freedom of expression, which I think everyone is entitled to.

But on the other hand, look at these drug companies. They're hardly hurting for profits, are they? Not when they can charge insurance companies 200 dollars a bottle for stuff like Nexium (I know, I use it).
 
When does the overwhelming greed of the corporate monolith have to take a back seat to helping people because we /can/?
 
I'm hardly saying that these companies need to start giving away metric tons of pills; but it certainly wouldn't crush their bottom line to offer licensing to produce these medications to poor countries and a very significant decrease. They'd still be making money, it would still be legal, and they'd get a spectacular PR boost. On the other hand, they could just be hardasses who need to be even greedier, and then the countries in question will just produce the drugs they need anyway.

I say good for them. Maybe if Congress wasn't in their pockets, they'd start feeling a little pressure to actually compete.

Non-Profit drug companies (1)

MrSteveSD (801820) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002881)

It seems to me that you have a lot of drug companies spending billions on secretive research and probably duplicating a lot of each others work. Countries are then paying a fortune to these companies, funding the secretive and duplicate research. It would make a lot more financial sense if countries just banded their resources together and formed some kind of altruistic non-profit drug company.

Re:Non-Profit drug companies (2, Insightful)

SharpFang (651121) | more than 7 years ago | (#19002905)

Won't happen, because the companies will spend a lot of money on lobbying against it. If it was created, it would mean the end of them, so they'd do whatever in their power to prevent it.
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