Thursday, January 18, 2007

The high cost of the "free market."

UPDATE: Check out The Carpetbagger's comments below.

Digby, commenting on the situation that Jane of FDL finds herself, "can't help but reflect on just how fucked up this is". It seems that there is a potential cancer cure and, according to this article in the New Scientist,

It sounds almost too good to be true: a cheap and simple drug that kills almost all cancers by switching off their “immortality”. The drug, dichloroacetate (DCA), has already been used for years to treat rare metabolic disorders and so is known to be relatively safe.

It also has no patent, meaning it could be manufactured for a fraction of the cost of newly developed drugs.


The next step is to run clinical trials of DCA in people with cancer. These may have to be funded by charities, universities and governments: pharmaceutical companies are unlikely to pay because they can’t make money on unpatented medicines. The pay-off is that if DCA does work, it will be easy to manufacture and dirt cheap.

Digby opines:
And here I thought the pharmaceutical companies had to charge such high prices because of all the research they were doing. Seems without the possibility of future revenue they can't be bothered. Of course, a cheap cure for cancer would cut into profits in so many ways, wouldn't it?
The Carpetbagger weighs in too:

For that matter, it’s also another instance that reminds us of the role the government can play in the sciences.

Ezra explained:

As I’ve said before, using the government’s monopsony and formulary powers to radically reduce the cost of pharmaceuticals probably won’t hurt private R&D much…. But even if it did, pumping those same savings into public sector research and development would more than balance the scales.

So much of the genuinely original molecular research is being done on the NIH’s dime in university labs — but the NIH is underfunded, and so passing on promising and/or risky applications. Pumping cash into their coffers would be a wise, wise investment, and would open promising avenues for research that the drug companies won’t currently pursue.

I’d just add that the free market cannot serve as the be-all, end-all for a society. Values count. The market says this drug is almost worthless, because few stand to make any profit at all. Common sense tells us otherwise.

Of course, it’s a good thing Bush has increased funding for all of that government cancer research, right? Oh wait….

President Bush, yesterday:

“First, I’m pleased that we’re funding cancer research. We’re up about 25 percent or 26 percent since 2001; it’s a commitment that I made when I first came to Washington, it’s a commitment we’re keeping. And the reason why it makes sense to spend taxpayers’ money on cancer research is that we can make some good progress, and have.”

ABC News Medical Editor Timothy Johnson, a few hours later:

“[W]hen the administration tries to take credit for increased spending, per se, I think they’re misleading. It is true that the total budget for the National Cancer Institute has gone up by $1.2 billion since 2001. But most of that occurred in those early years under a Clinton initiative. The budget was actually cut last year and the projected budget for this year is to be cut even further. So, I think it’s a real tragedy that we are cutting the budget for the National Cancer Institute at a time we’re on the verge of many exciting discoveries.”

As Steve M., who has a good post on this, noted today, Johnson “doesn’t exactly live up to the liberal media stereotype — he’s an assisting minister at West Peabody Community Covenant Church in Massachusetts and the author of a book about his Christian faith.

And now he wants the public to know that when the president brags about “keeping his commitment” to funding cancer research, he’s not telling the truth. What kind of person a) cuts funding for cancer research; and b) lies about it?


Blogger liberal journal man said...

Have you heard of Blood Electrification? It was pushed by a Dr. Bob Beck, who has already passed away, but the idea behind it was that by using a low current it could cure a host of maladies, from AIDS to Cancer to Malaria:

It sounds bazaar, but we're talking about something that could virtually bankrupt all of Big Pharma.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

I hadn't heard about it but I've since read some stuff about it.

There was a time when the fact that big "reputable" companies weren't working with something was sufficient justification for me to concluded that there was nothing to it. There was a time when I would lump stuff like this in with the guy who could make gasoline out of water but the big oil companies were keeping him from getting the word out.

Since then, I have become very skeptical about corporate decision-making being in any way positively correlated with the public good. However, as a devote agnostic, I tend to not accept on faith any scientific claims -- I require proof.

However, at the risk of sounding like Rumsfeld, absence of proof is not proof of falsity, it just means that we don't know if it's true. My initial response is: could be... tell me more.

I am wary of magical or wishful thinking. I would really like this to be true but hope is not evidence any more than hope is a plan (hello Iraqi "surge").

10:30 PM  

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