×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

AIDS Drug Patent Revoked In US

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the who-says dept.

Patents 357

eldavojohn writes "Doctors Without Borders is reporting that four patents for tenofovir disoproxil fumarate, a key AIDS/HIV drug, have been revoked on grounds of prior art. This is potentially good news for India & Brazil who need this drug to be cheap; if the US action leads to the patent being rejected in these countries, competition could drastically lower prices. But the ruling bad news for Gilead Sciences. The company has vowed to appeal. We discussed this drug before."

cancel ×
This is a preview of your comment

No Comment Title Entered

Anonymous Coward 1 minute ago

No Comment Entered

357 comments

that's no cure (4, Funny)

User 956 (568564) | more than 6 years ago | (#22231836)

Doctors Without Borders is reporting that four patents for tenofovir disoproxil fumarate, a key AIDS/HIV drug

And here I was, thinking that they were trying to patent an obscure Russian playwright.

This sentence no verb. (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22231842)

This sentence no verb.

I can feel the kindness (2, Informative)

Jangchub (1139089) | more than 6 years ago | (#22231844)

Nice. Squeezing a buck out of the poorest and sickest people in the world. Gilead Sciences makes the *channers look like Mother Teresa in comparison. Par for the course in the Pharmaceutical industry.

Re:I can feel the kindness (4, Insightful)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | more than 6 years ago | (#22231914)

A thing to remember though is that the average cost of developing a new drug easily runs into hundreds of millions of dollars and that they need to make that back to stay in business.

Not that I'm against making life saving drugs available to anyone who needs them, but if that's what you want to do then everybody should bear the cost (through taxes), not just shareholders of pharmaceutical companies.

Re:I can feel the kindness (5, Informative)

Smordnys s'regrepsA (1160895) | more than 6 years ago | (#22231964)

Big Pharma is corrupt as all heck. They don't "research new drugs," they research how to make minor changes to existing drugs so they can re-patient. They just had an ex-industry insider (from relatively high in the ranks) condemn them to our congressmen.

Don't get me started on how much of the "research" money comes from the government.

I'll willing to accept that there might be a perfectly rational, moral reason the drugs are priced the way they are... but I haven't heard it yet.

Re:I can feel the kindness (4, Informative)

Lost Engineer (459920) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232060)

The research is largely proving that the drugs are effective and safe. This costs good money, and few will do it it there's not something in it for them.

I'm not defending big pharma or any company in particular.

Re:I can feel the kindness (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22232332)

Their profit margins are 17%, while most other Fortune 500 companies are 4% or less. They are definitely making good money.

Re:I can feel the kindness (4, Insightful)

Rob Simpson (533360) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232358)

This is what publicly-funded research is supposed to be for.

Re:I can feel the kindness (1)

daniorerio (1070048) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232586)

You're kidding right? What public funded lab has the 1 billion US$ or more to bring a drug to the market? That's also the reason why companies prefer to "make minor changes to existing drugs", because developing new drugs, specially for rare diseases is in most cases not a viable business model...

Re:I can feel the kindness (1)

servognome (738846) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232186)

They don't "research new drugs," they research how to make minor changes to existing drugs so they can re-patient.
I know that Big Pharma just keeps patenting similar drugs, the big question is why we don't get new breakthrough drugs from other companies? It can't be because of the patents, because Big Pharma isn't researching novel solutions.

Re:I can feel the kindness (3, Insightful)

Nutria (679911) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232228)

I know that Big Pharma just keeps patenting similar drugs, the big question is why we don't get new breakthrough drugs from other companies?

Because it's damned expensive and takes a long time to prove to the FDA and society-leeching lawyers that a product is (relatively) safe.

Besides, most (all?) of the low-hanging fruit have been picked. It takes a lot of effort to climb to the top of the tree and hunt for edible fruit.

I can feel the side-effects. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22232326)

"Because it's damned expensive and takes a long time to prove to the FDA and society-leeching lawyers that a product is (relatively) safe."

"Relative" as long as it's not you. [wikipedia.org]

Re:I can feel the kindness (4, Interesting)

Kaz Riprock (590115) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232296)

First you have to find your target and you have to be able to make a lot of it to test against a lot of molecules initially. You also have to have a fast and easy way to see if anything sticks to it or not from all this screening. You also have to see if the target you picked isn't going to foul up the system in some crazy unexpected way.

Most drugs are stumbled upon by hitting some relatively similar molecule in a vast database of molecules the company has laying around from various sources.

If they don't stumble on it, they can't even begin. Then, if they do, they have to modify it to get it to work better than the simple one they stumbled upon. These modifications are mainly guesswork based on all of the possible modifications their chemists can think to try within certain limits. Then, if it does bind really well, it has to bind in the presence of everything else it would normally have to go through: other cellular components, plasma components, whole blood, liver enzymes, the works. If it sticks to any of those things or gets destroyed by the body's machinery before it can reach a concentration necessary to do whatever you want it to do from when you saw it work in the test tube...then you go back to square one or maybe two.

Then, if all of that is working, you can try some animals. If they don't die, you can try some humans. If they don't die, you can try to prove your case to the FDA. If they don't cry, you can finally sell your drug.

So, all of that has to be accomplished before you get a new chemical...and that's if you can find anything at the beginning in your vast library of options (which isn't as vast as you ever wish it would be). Otherwise, you wait for someone else to accomplish all of these things to at least somewhere around the mice...and then you buy them out. Of course, if you wait around for someone to get that far on a brand new target, you'll wait for quite a while, since most new, little guys won't have the library, manpower, capital, intelligence, or best target to even get as far as mice before going under...so there's always that problem too.

Re:I can feel the kindness (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22232224)

From "Excess in the pharmaceutical industry" by Marcia Angell, http://www.cmaj.ca/cgi/content/full/171/12/1451 [www.cmaj.ca]

Although the pharmaceutical industry claims to be a high-risk business, year after year drug companies enjoy higher profits than any other industry.

In 2002, for example, the top 10 drug companies in the United States had a median profit margin of 17%, compared with only 3.1% for all the other industries on the Fortune 500 list.1 Indeed, subtracting losses from gains, those 10 companies made more in profits that year than the other 490 companies put together.

Re:I can feel the kindness (2, Interesting)

MMC Monster (602931) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232806)

It's simple enough: Have mandatory limits on how much pharma companies can spend on marketing. For prescription medications, do not allow companies to advertise directly to the public. Limit how much kickbacks the companies can give Doctors/Hospitals/etc.

Re:I can feel the kindness (2, Interesting)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232240)

The way drugs (or anything else) are priced has nothing to do with morality, and everything to do with market forces. If the pharma companies are corrupt, "don't research new drugs" or set the drug prices too high, then why not start a pharma company that isn't corrupt, does research new drugs and sells drugs at lower prices? That way you can put them all out of business.

Yes, I know you can't start a drug company but that's beside the point. Somebody would.

Re:I can feel the kindness (5, Informative)

jellie (949898) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232334)

That's ridiculous. Drugs are not priced based on market forces. In fact, there are no market forces. Assuming you have insurance, then the drug's cost to you is not the real cost - nor is the "market" price related to the cost to the company. Amgen and Roche are in a battle over dialysis drugs [nytimes.com] . With kickbacks, reimbursement rates, and other strange financial dealings, the prices become complicated. Look at Genentech too. Their main competitor to Lucentis, their drug for wet age-related macular degeneration, is Avastin, another one of their drugs! Yet Lucentis costs about 40 times as much as Avastin. That has nothing to do with the market. So what do they do? They try to prevent ophthalmologists from purchasing Avastin to use as treatment for AMD, by halting sales to compounding pharmacies.

The barrier to entry is also extremely high (though this might be necessary to ensure there aren't fakes). As a patient, you have little choice. Do you honestly shop around for the cheapest doctors when it comes time for surgery? You don't have much say in what the doctor will order for you, and you have essentially no say in who your anesthesiologist will be.

Re:I can feel the kindness (1)

MMC Monster (602931) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232782)

People don't shop around for honest doctors. Most don't even shop around for good doctors. If a doctor appears honest and making a good effort and punting you over to the next guy when he's in over his head, that's good enough.

And that's the right way to handle it. Everyone cannot afford to go to the best physician at the local hospital (you'd never get an appointment).

Re:I can feel the kindness (1)

olman (127310) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232348)

Good old Let's see you do better [somethingawful.com] argument!

And a very short counter to this particular one: Because any startup biotech companies are snatched by big pharma the second the new molecule they've been working on seems to be viable. Big pharma on the other hand got started by cheerfully ripping off their competition back in the day when IP protection was just a pipe dream.

Market forces? You're both right and wrong... (1)

Rob Simpson (533360) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232420)

Monopoly power allows sellers to raise prices above those they would obtain in perfectly competitive markets. In the jargon of economics, they are thus able to earn "rents," defined as the excess of the prices actually received by sellers above the minimum prices the sellers would have to be paid to sell into the market. Countries differ in the degree to which they try to whittle away at the rent earned on the supply side through the creation of market power on the buy (monopsony) side of the market. A single-payer system would be called a "pure monopsony."
- Health Affairs, 22, no. 3 (2003): 89-105 [healthaffairs.org]

Re:I can feel the kindness (2, Insightful)

Bert64 (520050) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232306)

They are also more concerned with making drugs that temporarily alleviate symptoms, rather than drugs which actually cure the ailment.
Being commercial businesses that need to make profit for their shareholders, it is far more profitable to sell someone a cocktail of drugs that only alleviate some of the symptoms, such that the patient has to keep using them indefinitely, rather than providing a cure...

A cured patient will buy the cure once, and then not need any more drugs...
A patient still suffering will continue to buy the drugs that temporarily alleviate some of his symptoms for the rest of his life.

If one of these companies discovered a cure to AIDS, they would keep it to themselves. If they released it they would make a lot of short term profit, that is until AIDS was completely eradicated, at which point they would no longer be able to make any profit from AIDS sufferers.
It's also in their interests to make drugs with side effects, so that they can sell additional drugs to combat the side effects.

Commercial pharmaceutical research is completely corrupt by it's very nature, the goals of a commercial business are completely at odds with the patient's needs.

Pharmaceutical research should be performed by government and charities, with full accountability and no commercial bias. It is in the interest of government to have a healthy populace, as unhealthy citizens don't earn any money for the country... Even more so in a country with nationalised healthcare, as unhealthy citizens are an additional burden. If a national healthcare system could put AIDS sufferers on a short course of drugs so they could continue to live a healthy life after a month or two of treatment, instead of feeding them expensive drugs for 30-40 years until they die, the healthcare system would benefit greatly.

Pharmaceutical companies should be relegated to lowest-bidder manufacturing of publicly available drugs.

Re:I can feel the kindness (1)

jhylkema (545853) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232312)

Don't get me started on how much of the "research" money comes from the government.

You can thank Ronald Alzheimer's for that one.

Re:I can feel the kindness (1)

jhylkema (545853) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232320)

Big Pharma is corrupt as all heck. They don't "research new drugs," they research how to make minor changes to existing drugs so they can re-patient. They just had an ex-industry insider (from relatively high in the ranks) condemn them to our congressmen.

And they don't develop "life-saving" drugs either. By and large, they develop pills for yuppie pseudo afflictions like impotence and shyness. Oh, and let's not forget the pills to make kids STFU which are grossly overprescribed. Don't believe me, huh? Seen any new antibiotics lately?

Re:I can feel the kindness (5, Interesting)

aywwts4 (610966) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232322)

I used to be a tech at a conference center where very large companies' executives met.

It allowed me an interesting perspective, (imagine the many British period pieces you see where the nobility is carrying on their conversations in front of "The help" completely unaffected by their presence.) The tech fixing their laptop invisible to them in every way. Even if they are 1 foot away from them working on their laptop or wiring them up with a lav its like you aren't even in the room. (How you can ignore the person rummaging through your shirt and pockets is a mystery to me)

(This was the second favorite conversation I overheard there, it was carried on between two executives, right in front of me, while I was working on the microphones.)

"Everyone always thinks the scientists lead the way discovering cures and shit, but thats B.S., really we have marketing research what people are the most insecure of, what we can make the most money in treating, and then we tell the scientists to work on fixing it" (the conversation continued about what marketing looks for, wealthy and expanding demographics with certain ailments, tracking what well insured baby boomers are the most insecure of, and all the trivial things you can make a pill for, and the naivety and lack of business smarts of their scientists.) This isn't revolutionary I'm sure, but this kind of candor shocked me, These people really are as evil as people say.

(My favorite conversation were two executives talking about how they were "pumping and dumping" their own companies, firing and outsourcing as many people as they can to get short term profits up, get better bargaining power with "results" on their side, with no investments for even a few years in the future, and how great their parachute packages are. (It was a conference of executives on why CEOs are the unsung underpaid employees at a company, and about the wonders of outsourcing everything.)

Re:I can feel the kindness (0, Troll)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232488)

This isn't revolutionary I'm sure, but this kind of candor shocked me, These people really are as evil as people say.
Why does this make them evil? Is is because they tell scientists to research the most profitable diseases? Yet you don't seem to mind the untold billion that is spent to create entertainment products of all sorts. After all if those evil musicians didn't waste their time on such things we would have more resources to invest in medical research. How dare people try and make what others want instead of what you consider best for society.

Re:I can feel the kindness (4, Insightful)

Soporific (595477) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232788)

When is the last time an entertainer went out of their way to target massive ad campaigns to the entire nation in an attempt to make every last citizen buy their drugs because they must have something wrong with them after listing every symptom known to man? If you don't get the point he's trying to make and see some of the bullshit the pharmaceutical industry has been pulling then I don't know what to tell you.

Re:I can feel the kindness (1)

MrMr (219533) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232762)

"Everyone always thinks the scientists lead the way discovering cures and shit, but thats B.S., really we have marketing research what people are the most insecure of, what we can make the most money in treating..
This is their standard level of B.S.. In fact, no marketing research department has never asked for something that wasn't already discovered and making money for the competiton. If marketing were really to identify something new they would be the first to claim their place on the patents. I have seen the exact opposite however: marketing droids massaging the management to stop the development of some new drugs because the company didn't have a market share in the field at the time (so they would have to retrain their sales people...)

Re:I can feel the kindness (2, Insightful)

emarkp (67813) | more than 6 years ago | (#22231978)

Alternatively, philanthropic organizations could pay for the treatment of people in need, without confiscatory levels of taxes. That way both compassion and property rights can work together.

Re:I can feel the kindness (3, Interesting)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232124)

Yep, the only problem is what happens when the philanthropic contributions don't meet the need even half way (or one tenth of the way). Do you grab the money by force anyway (taxes) or do you say well let those who can't afford the treatment suffer and die, property rights are more important

Re:I can feel the kindness (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22232374)

Even though you're trying to make this into a discussion on materialism, you're really just asking whether quality or quantity of life is better. Good luck with that.

Re:I can feel the kindness (5, Interesting)

Eivind (15695) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232012)

Did you ever wonder why, if the government considers it important to society, they can use eminent domain and forcibly buy your house, tear it down and for example build a railroad there. Real property needs to yield when it is important for society as a whole.

Yet, if some company hold so called "intellectual property", say for a HIV-drug, and millions of people in your country are HIV positive and will DIE if not given the drug, then there is NO similar set of laws that allow the government to forcibly buy the rights to manufacture the drug ?

Notice that with eminent domain the government still has to PAY for the property. But you are forced to sell, even if you would prefer not to, is my point.

I think it would be very sensible to have a similar system for patents: let the government buy them out if they are sufficiently important for society. By all means, make the price such that the company comes out ahead, significantly more than it cost to develop the patent in questions.

It's very strange, I think, that "We want to build a road here" is reason enough to overrule real property while "25% of our population will die if they don't get this treatment" is not reason enough to overrule so-called "intellectual" property.

Re:I can feel the kindness (1)

Lost Engineer (459920) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232080)

The issue is not that the government can't seize these patents. They could at will. There's either not the will to do it or no money for it. If the government does seize your house (unless you're accused of using it for illegal drug selling, but I don't want to threadjack) they have to pay you for it. As you can imagine, good patents are worth a lot of money. If congress had its mind set on such and action the law wouldn't pose much of a problem, as laws are easily changed.

Re:I can feel the kindness (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22232226)

Yeah, I guess if they pay the price for those patents, that will hurt the wars' funding (such as paying for patents on another kind of things...which do completely opposite of what medicine does) and if we allow that, then bad guys have won already!

Re:I can feel the kindness (3, Interesting)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232194)

I don't see any contradiction there. If the government needs a road which is important for the society to build, it forcibly BUYS the house from the owner and pays the fair market price. If the government needs drugs that are important for the society, it can equally well forcibly BUY them from the drug companies at the market price.

Its a different problem if the government wants the drugs but doesn't like paying the market price. I guess then it can seize the drugs anyway, problem solved. Just remember that if you start a business some day and make a product that the government likes, it might decide to seize it from you as well.

Re:I can feel the kindness (1)

vistic (556838) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232476)

I don't think this was in reference to forcibly buying individual pills, rather the patent "intellectual property" rights to the drug, such that any company could produce the drug, or the government could do that itself.

Also bear in mind the market price is due to a monopoly (on a life saving drug). It's not like simple supply and demand, people are generally willing to pay a LOT to not DIE tomorrow.

If the government forcibly bought out the patent, and opened it up to any other company to produce the pills, then you would see the true market price (more in line with the actual cost to produce) unless they are in collusion.

Re:I can feel the kindness (1)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232632)

It doesn't make any difference whether we are talking about buying the individual pills or the patent. Patents get bought and sold as well and there is a market price for them (hell of a lot more than for the pills). Let's say the drug patent is put up for an auction. The price it would fetch would not be related in any way to the cost of developing the patent. Instead, it would reflect how much the company that buys it can make from it during the lifetime of the patent. If the government (i.e the taxpayers) is willing to pay that amount, then fine, I don't think the pharma company would have any problems with that. Anything less than that amount, the government would be robbing the pharma company shareholders of their wealth and passing it on to others.

Re:I can feel the kindness (2, Insightful)

The Evil Couch (621105) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232440)

I can give you a few decent reasons why Uncle Sam's not going to seize any AIDS cures or treatments:
  1. Uncle Sam is scared of Big Business. (More properly, the weasels that make up Uncle Sam are scared of losing Big Business' money)
  2. AIDS is overblown. WHO reported ~17k AIDS deaths in the US for 2005. US Census reported ~300mill Americans, making it a pretty low priority illness, even though it's nasty and fatal. ~0.006% of the population is statistically insignificant, sad to say.
  3. Most AIDS victims get themselves infected through willing sexual contact. While that shouldn't matter for getting help to people, the fact is that it's more difficult to muster sympathy for illnesses that people inflict upon themselves.
Sad thing about the federal government stepping in to deal with it is that there just aren't enough people dying to get those on the Hill to take any real action. The mandate from the people isn't there, they don't want to touch Big Business, for fear of fucking up the economy and dozens of other reasons that should pale in comparison to people dying. It's not fair and it sucks, but that's life.

Re:I can feel the kindness (1)

vistic (556838) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232484)

I agree with point 1.

Regarding point 2, what is the HIV infection rate? AIDS deaths is only part of the story. In the USA, people are getting drugs.

And your point 3 just makes you sound like an ass. No decent human being is going to NOT be sympathetic to someone dying of HIV and say "Well, you asked for it so tough luck!"

Re:I can feel the kindness (3, Insightful)

The Evil Couch (621105) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232652)

And your point 3 just makes you sound like an ass. No decent human being is going to NOT be sympathetic to someone dying of HIV and say "Well, you asked for it so tough luck!"
I'm not saying that there's no sympathy; I'm saying that there's reduced sympathy. Every little thing that hurts public perception of a problem is going to make developing a public demand to deal with it harder. Declaring eminent domain on AIDS treatments just isn't going to happen in the present culture.

And to answer your question, there were ~46k new diagnosed AIDS cases and ~38k new diagnosed HIV cases in 2005. High mortality rate, but the percent of infected are still low enough to prevent the average person from knowing many, if any of them, making it "someone else's problem" in their minds. The old adage "out of sight, out of mind" is still true.

In South Africa (1)

AndGodSed (968378) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232068)

AIDS is a big issue. We are losing more people to AIDS than to all other causes of death combined atm. And here our health minister is advocating curing AIDS with beetroot and other veggies.

Fighting over a drug that could potentially save/improve lives misses the point. Get it to the people! They desperately need it.

Re:In South Africa (1)

Calinous (985536) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232158)

Smoking related diseases might get a much higher place. Also, car accidents are a big cause of mortality (no, I don't have numbers)

Re:In South Africa (1)

AndGodSed (968378) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232492)

Yeah, I know. Are you from SA? We get updates on the news regarding car mortality on regular if infrequent intervals.

I know the figures for AIDS seem ridiculously high, but take into account that South Africa has the worlds largest (as in numbers) AIDS population of any country in the world.

Many AIDS related deaths are reported as Tuberculoses or similar because of the stigma that clings to the disease in rural areas...

Re:I can feel the kindness (5, Informative)

foobsr (693224) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232220)

A thing to remember though is that the average cost of developing a new drug easily runs into hundreds of millions of dollars and that they need to make that back to stay in business.

This is why they struggle so hard, quote [nybooks.com] : " In 2001, the ten American drug companies in the Fortune 500 list (not quite the same as the top ten worldwide, but their profit margins are much the same) ranked far above all other American industries in average net return, whether as a percentage of sales (18.5 percent), of assets (16.3 percent), or of shareholders' equity (33.2 percent). These are astonishing margins. For comparison, the median net return for all other industries in the Fortune 500 was only 3.3 percent of sales. Commercial banking, itself no slouch as an aggressive industry with many friends in high places, was a distant second, at 13.5 percent of sales." (emphasis mine)

CC.

Re:I can feel the kindness (1)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232280)

Ok, we are obviously different. I read your quote as "Fortune 500 companies should try harder to make more money". You read it as "pharmaceutical companies should be forced to make less money".

Re:I can feel the kindness (2, Insightful)

aproposofwhat (1019098) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232672)

I read it as "companies operating in other market sectors less favoured by the paid oligarchy that runs the US struggle to make a decent margin".

Hell, more gross profit than the bankers?

Either the pharmaceutical companies are all run by geniuses, or there's a serious imbalance that should be corrected by the government - I'd be inclined to levy a windfall tax just to see the bastards squirm.

Re:I can feel the kindness (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22232290)

A key thing to remember is that you're eating what they're force feeding you.

A BIGGER part of drug company budgets goes on marketing than on R&D.

Wake up.

Re:I can feel the kindness (1)

suckmysav (763172) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232294)

Big pharma spends more money on advertising and "executive reimbursement" than they do on actual research, they deserve no sympathy.

"New" Drugs are cheap (1)

giafly (926567) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232382)

A thing to remember though is that the average cost of developing a new drug easily runs into hundreds of millions of dollars and that they need to make that back to stay in business.
You might think so, but it's not true. Just yesterday I listened in while guys in the next office discussed a scheme to design and patent polymorphic forms of existing drugs - with most of the work being by software - and so develop colossal numbers of new drugs very cheaply. I doubt this is anything new.

Re:I can feel the kindness (1, Insightful)

SausageOfDoom (930370) | more than 6 years ago | (#22231922)

Drugs cost millions to develop, take years to get to market, so the companies need their IP protection to get their money back and turn a profit. They're businesses, not charities.

I agree that it feels wrong that there are people dying because they can't afford the drugs, but the fact is that the drugs wouldn't exist if it wasn't for the extortionate prices - it wouldn't be worth the drug companies' time.

Re:I can feel the kindness (1)

Calinous (985536) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232002)

The cost to develop is only one facet of the equation - for human use, the drugs must go a very important testing phase (that could take years). This is also costly, and slows down the introduction of the drugs.

Re:I can feel the kindness (1)

SausageOfDoom (930370) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232074)

Yes, I should have been clearer; I meant it cost millions to get the drug to market. You also have to bear in mind all of the drugs that cost millions but that fail in the last stage of trials and never make it to market. Although that's probably offset a bit by the drugs they do get to market that have unexpected side effects, like avastin or viagra. Hehe, the look on parents' faces when you tell them you want to give their new-born baby viagra...

Re:I can feel the kindness (2, Insightful)

Jangchub (1139089) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232096)

That's true, but it also depends on the definition of "worth their time". I volunteered at a Buddhist center for four years without pay. Definitely not practical but worth my time. I'm sure a lot of these companies are filled with greedy people who's idea of what's worth their time has more to do with a vacation in the Bahamas or another BMW than saving the lives of the unfortunate.

Re:I can feel the kindness (1, Insightful)

Bert64 (520050) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232368)

Which is exactly why drug research should not be done by commercial companies...

It is more profitable to provide a drug that temporarily alleviates the symptoms, than one that cures the problem. Look at the HIV/AIDS medications, sufferers are expected to take a cocktail of drugs which will suppress the virus and delay the onset of full blown AIDS from HIV... But it won't cure the problem, the sufferer will take these drugs for many years but will still eventually develop full blown AIDS and die an excruciating death. They are also still able to infect others, and thus unlikely to have a fulfilling sex life or to have kids.

The years that the HIV/AIDS sufferer continues taking these drugs, means continuous profit for the drugs companies selling them, which is good for business.

However a vaccine that cured HIV, and allowed the sufferer to continue their life as normal would be a one-shot treatment, and would eliminate the risk of the sufferer infecting others.

Medical research should _NOT_ be conducted by for-profit companies, it is in their interest to keep as many patients suffering for as long as possible so as to generate more profit. Research into medicine should be done by government and charity, and released into the public domain for the greater good. You could also tax for-profit medical providers, insurers etc, to provide money for research.

Companies providing medical insurance would still be better off, as drugs would be cheaper and the drugs would be developed with the aim of curing the patient rather than keeping them suffering. Same for non-profit or nationalised healthcare, who would save a lot of money not only in the price of drugs, but by the reduced volume of patients.

Re:I can feel the kindness (1)

SausageOfDoom (930370) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232712)

Yes and no. Look at the thousands of diseases that have drugs for cure and prevention. Things like cancer and HIV are insanely complicated to treat, not least because we don't fully understand how they work yet.

What is true is that most big drug companies will not develop drugs for small groups because they want a good profit, but then that's why there are some companies who specialise in those kinds of treatments. Niche markets and all that.

And if there's one thing that nationalisation should show us, it's that it doesn't work. People in government writing the cheques miss a few 0s off the end because they want to go to war, they push the organisation in the direction of short-term big headlines, management still take their big bonuses, and it's the people doing the work at the front who get shafted - and go off to work in the private sector where their skills are appreciated.

Re:I can feel the kindness (1, Interesting)

jhylkema (545853) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232298)

Gilead Sciences makes the *channers look like Mother Teresa in comparison.

Actually, they look about the same. Mother Teresa was a fanatic fundamentalist and a con artist with a sadist streak. The people in her homes for the dying endured cancer-type pain with analgesics no stronger than paracetamol. When they cried out, she would say, "you are suffering as Christ on the cross." All of the money donated to her organization went straight into the Vatican bank, not to build a teaching hospital as she promised. She also accepted a seven figure donation of stolen money from Charles Keating, the disgraced S&L swindler, and refused to give it back.

Bitch.

Re:I can feel the kindness (1)

Jangchub (1139089) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232330)

Nice. I guess I can't make comparisons to anyone without doing research first... and finding them to be scumbags. Next thing I'll find out is that Einstein stole all his shit from the patent trolls that filed patents. Oh well.

Re:I can feel the kindness (1)

El Yanqui (1111145) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232460)

Everybody has an opinion and on Slashdot you can make it sound like fact. Some people are just so far off base here it's scary. I worked in the pharmaceutical industry in molecular biology, and am still working tangentially to pharmaceuticals. I was part of a team that brought a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis to completion.

That drug started the process of becoming a treatment 15 years earlier. It took 15 years to isolate the desired property, study it, run tests and apply for approval. That doesn't count the many years prior to that where scientists were on fishing expeditions looking for solutions that didn't pan out.

During that time massive millions of dollars were sunk into the project in the hope that it would eventually come to fruition, work and be approved. You're telling me the pharmaceutical industry is only interested in profits, temporary reliefs rather than cures and exploiting the sick? Piss off and go back to chewing on tree bark then.

Innovation and medical treatments take a long time to develop and occur at a great cost. The profits on today's drug funds the research on tomorrow's treatments.

Cool... (4, Insightful)

arivanov (12034) | more than 6 years ago | (#22231846)

Now if they stop granting patents on chemical compounds and their use and return to granting patents only on synthesis and novel purification methods that will be really worth cracking a bottle of bubbly.

The chemical and pharmaceutical industry happily grew to become one of the biggest contributors to developed nations GDP using only this kind of protection. It does not really need anything more. Anything more is just protectionism and racketeering.

Re:Cool... (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22232136)

Now if they stop granting patents on chemical compounds and their use and return to granting patents only on synthesis and novel purification methods
I do not understand what you are saying. They do not issue patents for finding and identifying the chemical structure and physical properties of compounds found in nature. They will issue a patent for finding a medicinal use of a compound found in nature. But mostly we are talking about libraries of compounds that are developed and claimed by a company. If the compound is rigorously novel, then they would have an automatic patent on the work up for the compound. So they have never issued patents like "I claim NaCl." Overall, I think that the posts here are way too critical of pharmaceutical companies. It is true that there are *WAY* too many hands in the cookie jar and these companies are spending some times as little as one seventh of their money on actual research, but this is not the complete rule. Inside some of the companies are dedicated chemists and physicians who *have* to return profit to their shareholders to stay in business.

Re:Cool... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22232250)

I do not understand.... stay in business.
How could this have been moderated 'troll'? You're getting an awfully well informed opinion here.

Re:Cool... (1)

jellie (949898) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232258)

That's not true. Yes, patents should not be issued for things that occur naturally. But how about genes? It's ludicrous to think that someone could patent a DNA sequence, and force others to pay licensing fees when screening for that gene. Here's an op-ed by Michael Crichton that discusses patents on genes [iht.com] . Here's another article from Wired [wired.com] . That's just to give you an idea, though I'm sure there are many more informative articles.

Pharmaceutical companies? They care nothing except for their profit. Who said they were worried about staying in business? One company has never made a profit [nytimes.com] or marketed a drug of its own. And it's been in existence since 1981. Another company has lost $1.3 billion, yet is still up and running.

Re:Cool... (4, Insightful)

suckmysav (763172) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232364)

"I do not understand what you are saying. They do not issue patents for finding and identifying the chemical structure and physical properties of compounds found in nature."

Ummm, no. A sensible person might believe this, but since the beginning of the nineties it has been common practice to patent the discovery of genes. As in "I have identified a gene that (allegedly) determines who will be fat and I am patenting it". Things such as this so-called "fat gene" are naturally occurring but nevertheless companies are falling over themselves to patent (the discovery of) their existence. This is happening now, there is no invention at all, just a discovery of a naturally occurring substance.

Do a google search for "gene patents" or read Michael Crichtons "Next" novel for more details.

Re:Cool... (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232216)

Yes something perverse has happened to the entire system since I was in an Aussie HS during the 70's. Wether it was law or conventional wisdom I don't know but I was taught that patents were not granted for discoveries, regardles of wether they were physical (drugs) or mathematical (software), these things were called trade secrets.

The whole idea of the state regulating what I can put in my body gives me the creeps, it's the claims of suppliers and actions of the user that should be regulated.

Re:Cool... (1)

wall0159 (881759) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232560)

While I agree with you in principle I see a problem in your reasoning:

What about nanotechnological machines? Where is the line drawn between a complex "chemical" (like DNA), and a machine? It's very arguable that DNA is (at minimum) software (in which case copyright is more applicable than patents - except in countries with crap governments), but it's also arguable that DNA is a machine.

Seems like a quagmire to me...

When words collide. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22231862)

This story doesn't address the core issue. The conflict between drug patents and public health.

Remind me again... (4, Insightful)

pembo13 (770295) | more than 6 years ago | (#22231890)

why can't taxes pay for medical research? (not that I trust the government that much) but it seems like it's as much in the public good as good roads.

Re:Remind me again... (4, Insightful)

CrazyJim1 (809850) | more than 6 years ago | (#22231908)

Call me a conspiracy nut, but I always imagined that no one gets rich curing a disease when they can sell you pills over the course of your lifetime instead.

Re:Remind me again... (1)

Divebus (860563) | more than 6 years ago | (#22231928)

Call me a conspiracy nut, but I always imagined that no one gets rich curing a disease when they can sell you pills over the course of your lifetime instead.

OK, you're a conspiracy nut. However, conspiracy nuts sometimes provide a shortcut to the truth and this is one of those cases.

Re:Remind me again... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22231982)

You are correct. The best profit strategy is always to make sure problems are never solved. That's fine for technology but there are a number of things that logically, and morally, should not be left to private enterprise. Those things include the health and security of the nation.

For those who are stuck to comprehend an alternative way consider the ancient Chinese model where you pay the doctor when you are well. If you get
sick you stop paying, thus the doctor has a motive to keep you in good health.

In a modern context this is a centrally organised helath service. Unfortunately most US Americans are unable to separate this idea from "socialism" (one presumes they hate society).

Re:Remind me again... (2, Insightful)

Lost Engineer (459920) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232164)

I was thinking about your conspiracy theory, and it occurred to me that many diseases have in fact been cured or at least prevented in the first world. I won't bore you with a list. It seems that there is some motive there. Also, I don't believe any virus has been cured, in the way that strep is curable. So while it could be a conspiracy, it seems to me that science merely lacks the means to stop what is possibly the world's most incurable virus.

Re:Remind me again... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22232340)

How many of those cures were developed at the initiative of the drug companies themselves?

Re:Remind me again... (1)

Kaz Riprock (590115) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232266)

If you *could* cure AIDS, you'd do it just to bypass the patents of those just "selling pills over the course of a lifetime instead". You'd not only corner the market on AIDS drugs (and even if you cure one guy, he's probably just going to run out and get it again from a different hooker next time) but anything else you researched would instantly be lapped up by every other company looking for your next gem, even if it's all turds from there on out. In the industry, fame gets you as much future money as your product.

Re:Remind me again... (1)

Bert64 (520050) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232392)

Hookers don't want to have AIDS, and make quite a lot of money from their work... They would be among the first people to use an AIDS cure if one became available.

How much money do you think big drugs companies would pay to bury your AIDS cure? If something like that got out, it would be a massive profit hit to some very large companies.

Re:Remind me again... (4, Insightful)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 6 years ago | (#22231954)

Taxes already pay for medical research in universities all over the world.

The real problem in the US is that the government doesn't want to impose a price for drugs that everyone in the country can afford. And so, because the pharmaceuticals aren't put on a leash, they charge as much as they can, which maximizes profit instead of maximizing numbers of patients who can benefit.

When two people can afford $10 and $100 respectively, the price is $100, which maximizes profit, instead of $10, which maximizes the number of people being helped.

Your taxes do pay for the research (5, Insightful)

NIckGorton (974753) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232106)

Your taxes already do pay for research - through NIH grants, tax breaks for pharmaceutical companies, and then after the drug is almost fully developed the government often gives the patent to an industry 'partner' to bring to market. A good example is AZT, the first ever anti-HIV medicine. The lion's share of the cost for developing AZT was paid by our tax dollars. Then Glaxo-Wellcome stepped in for the last bit and viola, they have an exclusive right to sell a life saving drug for whatever the market will bear.

From Physicians for a National Health Program's website: "15. Taxpayers pay for most research costs, and many clinical trials as well. In 2000, for example, industry spent 18% of its $13 billion for R&D on basic research, or $2.3 billion in gross costs (National Science Foundation 2003). All of that money was subsidized by taxpayers through deductions and tax credits. Taxpayers also paid for all $18 billion in NIH funds, as well as for R&D funds in the Department of Defense and other public budgets. Most of that money went for basic research to discover breakthrough drugs, and public money also supports more than 5000 clinical trials (Bassand, Martin, Ryden et al. 2002). Taxpayer contributions are similar in more recent years, only larger." http://www.pnhp.org/news/2004/february/will_lower_drug_pric.php [pnhp.org]

So they paid 2.3 billion (tax subsidized), and we kicked in 18 billion. Then they get to charge us for access to the drugs for which we paid 95% of the basic research costs.

Though you may say that PNHP is a bunch of hippies, so if you prefer a more grandfatherly source the AARP do a decent job too: http://www.aarp.org/bulletin/prescription/double_taxation.html [aarp.org]

Of course that is the reason that while you may not trust the government, they could be a much better steward of medical research than market forces. Market based R&D is inherently morally corrupt. It can't be otherwise. If its not obvious because of the fact that more R&D is spent developing drugs to give octogenarians a hard-on and a full head of hair than to offer effective treatment for malaria that kills millions each year in the developing world, MSF gives a great summary of the reasons that market based R&D is wrong: http://www.accessmed-msf.org/main/medical-innovation/introduction-to-medical-innovation/what-is-wrong-with-r-d-today/ [accessmed-msf.org]

Though I do agree with you that at present I don't trust the government. Not that they do bad research... the NIH and the researchers they fund are amazing. But I don't trust the corrupt system that gives the breakthrough drugs that the government develops into the hands of private industry so that they can extort millions of Americans for the price that the 'market will bear' for drugs they may need to survive.

Re:Your taxes do pay for the research (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22232244)

So they paid 2.3 billion (tax subsidized), and we kicked in 18 billion. Then they get to charge us for access to the drugs for which we paid 95% of the basic research costs.
Does that mean I should demand free rides on the first commercial space vehicles since taxes have payed for most of the basic research that has paved the way?

Re:Your taxes do pay for the research (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22232496)

So, you honestly think that if one person partners with another to buy a house, one pays 95%, the other 5%, the one that pays 5% should not only get exclusive ownership rights, but get to charge 13 times their actual costs as rent on the one that payed 95%.

Re:Your taxes do pay for the research (1)

MulluskO (305219) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232500)

Does that mean I should demand free rides on the first commercial space vehicles since taxes have payed for most of the basic research that has paved the way?
That's a terrible example.

Re:Your taxes do pay for the research (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22232524)

No, it means you should only pay the ordinary operating costs, since the technology research has already been carried out, which means the company hasn't added much value itself. You certainly shouldn't pay to cover large profit margins.

Re:Your taxes do pay for the research (1)

Ornedan (1093745) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232572)

You could. You could also be an idiot.

First of all, manufacturing drugs from a known recipe and getting spacecraft out of the gravity well are quite different. Launches cost piles of money, drug manufacturing not so much.
Second, the spaceflight company would not have a monopoly on all commercial spaceflight due to patents, while the drug company is the only one who gets to manufacture the drug for the next few decades.
Third, it's about people's health, which is IMO more important than getting to look at the pretty blue sphere from way above.

Of course, the drug manufacturer should be compensated for their manufacturing costs, but they shouldn't have the right to set an arbitrary price on the drug for hundreds of percent of profit. Especially when they didn't make the initial investment in developing the drug.

Re:Remind me again... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22232140)

I've never seen a good public road. Private toll roads, on the other hand, are amazing.

Re:Remind me again... (1, Troll)

freedom_india (780002) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232278)

Awww... come on dude, is USA a communist / socialist state with Free medicine and care for all?

Only dumb, classless, countries like Britain, France, Soviet Union have[had] such socialist tax funded medical research, where your next door 2-bit no-good neighbor who works as a construction worker gets the same medical care as you[who is a investment banker].

This is good ol' US of A. Where it is finally good to be flithy rich.
My money buys me better treatment because i fund the research.

Tax money for research?? What sort of crap is this? Why would i want the benefit of research to be shared amongst every tom, Dick and harry?
So that the next door illegal migrant gets treatment while i wait in queue???

No way. I fund the research and my company alone benefits from it. That is why USA has a strong patent system, although some stupid altruists want it to be revoked.

Taxes should be used to subsidise corn growers, steel makers and car producers. Not to fund medical research that benefits illegal migrants.

I just want to know (2, Insightful)

Smordnys s'regrepsA (1160895) | more than 6 years ago | (#22231930)

Could Antigua have produced the medicine as part of their court winnings, or is that limited to copyright only? I would love to buy exact copies of name brand drugs at their true value, while sticking it to big pharma at the same time!

No real loss to pharma companies (1)

methamorph (950510) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232006)

I understand that the pharmaceutical companies need to get money for what they invested in developing the drugs but I really don't think they are losing (a lot of) money on the generic drugs sold in poor countries since the people there don't have money to buy the "real" expensive ones. So it's either you let does people use cheap generic drugs or let them die since they can't afford the medication.

Yet another Pharma Myth you've bought (4, Interesting)

NIckGorton (974753) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232144)

They are recovering more of the cost of marketing (which takes a greater share of their budget than basic research), but don't buy the myth of the $800 million dollar drug. From Physicians for a National Health Program: http://www.pnhp.org/news/2004/february/will_lower_drug_pric.php [pnhp.org]

16. The average amount of research funds the drug industry needs to recover appears to be much less than the industry's figure of $800 million per new drug approved (NDA).

The $800 million figure is based on the small unrepresentative subsample of all new drugs. It excludes the majority of "new" drugs that are extensions or new administrations of existing drugs, as well as all drugs developed by NIH, universities, foundations, foreign teams, or others that have been licensed in or bought. Variations on existing drugs probably cost much less because so much of the work has already been done and trials are simpler.

About half of the $800 million figure consists of "opportunity costs", the money that would have been made if the R&D funds had been invested in equities, in effect a presumed profit built in and compounded every year and then called a "cost." Drug companies then expect to make a profit on this compounded profit, as well as on their actual costs. Minus the built-in profits, R&D costs would average about $108 million 93% of the time and $400 million 7% of the time.

The $800 million estimate also does not include taxpayers' subsidies via deductions and credits and untaxed profits (DiMasi, Hansen, and Grabowski 2003; DiMasi, Hansen, Grabowski et al. 1991). Net R&D costs are then still lower.

Contrary to some press reports from the industry, screening for new compounds is becoming faster and more efficient and the time from initial testing to approval has shortened substantially (Kaitin and Healy 2000). The large size of trials seems more due to signing up specialists to lock in substantial market share. Advertising firms are now running clinical trials (Bassand, Martin, Ryden et al. 2002; Peterson 2002; Moyers 2002).

Time To Socialize It (2, Interesting)

milsoRgen (1016505) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232036)

I personally believe all health care, including R&D should be government ran.
That's not to say that private industry has no place in health care. I just believe the government should be at the fore front in terms of research and patient care.

Re:Time To Socialize It (1)

Bootarn (970788) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232084)

I totally agree with you. Here in Sweden we have our health care run by the government. Unfortunately that's about to change now when our left wing government has been replaced by a coalition of right wing parties. A few public hospitals have already been shut down in favour of private care, resulting in longer waiting lines for patients. Of course, if you can pay (alot) you can take advantage of the private hospitals, but there are few who can.

In the Big Picture (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22232040)

It kind of makes me wonder why they did the Amazon 1-click re-examination before this one, I mean HIV drugs vs. Click and Ship?

Let's get our societal priorities in order!

how to prevent 99% of aids (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22232076)

STOP FUCKING LIKE MINDLESS ANIMALS.

Seriously. Show some self control and wait a bit, use a condom, get a test, etc. You have to either 1) intentionally stick your dick into a pussy/asshole, or 2) allows a dick to penetrate you and ejaculate in you to get infected. People who show less control than bunnies is the main cause of infection rates. You're horny while you're waiting? Masturbate!

For those that get infected due to rape, are born infected due to a mother who acts like above, get a tainted needle while undergoing a medical test, receive tainted blood, then I TRULY sympathize. These people truly deserve help.

But for those who can't keep their dick in their pants, spread their legs for any goober, or are junkies, you deserve what you got.

Re:how to prevent 99% of aids (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22232510)

Yeah, sure. The reason you never go on any dates is your superior 'self control'.

Fixed it for you (0, Redundant)

NIckGorton (974753) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232196)

I am a medicine geek and will offer a simple translation for computer geeks who may be less familiar with this situation. Put very simply:

Big Pharma = Micro$oft, SCO, MPAA/RIAA

MSF, Developing nations like Brazil and India who produce medicines for the developing world in violation of the patent = Linux, EFF, University of Oregon et al.

insider gossip (1)

sTeF (8952) | more than 6 years ago | (#22232232)

i just talked with a guy from the pharma industry and he told me that they were working with about 800 colleagues on developing new drugs, but they would come up with only about 1 *prospective* result per annum. while there was a competing startup, which employed instead of manpower other means - extensive simulations, it know-how, etc - they succeeded to come up with 3-6 prospective results per annum. so might be that these guys are really just stalling the transformation from a heavily human based research to a high-tech approach?

one more thing, pharma research is expensive and thus highly contributing to the innovation expenditure of states, so there might be also political motives behind the financial ones... ;)

anyway pfizer seems to be closing up their research shops, a lot of the pharma brainshare is going to have to cope with the biotech wave.

Xtubgirl (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22232246)

pallid bodies and downward spi8al. In of *BSD asswipes Be in a scene and during which I a conscious stand addresses wil7 never heeded say I'm packing
Load More Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Sign up for Slashdot Newsletters
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...