Good post from Reason magazine a year ago, which had a nice yeasty IP argument between me and Koepsell, on one side, and patent shill Dale Halling, on the other.
A final dispatch from the Open Science Summit.
Ronald Bailey | August 3, 2010
(Page 2 of 2)
Two years ago, the National Institutes of Health required that all its grantees make their research publicly available 12 months after it appears in a scientific journal. In one of the more clueless comments made at the hearing, one member of Congress worried that providing free access to journals would amount to giving away our country’s intellectual property to foreign competitors. A lobbyist for journal publishers apparently argued that mandating open access would destroy American jobs. The coalition favors the passage of the Federal Research Public Access Act which would extend the NIH policy to 11 other government agencies that fund research and shorten the embargo time from 12 to 6 months. “You can’t build on cutting edge science if you don’t know where the cutting edge is,” quipped Shockey.
Cheap Drugs for Poor People
Nobody, egalitarians and libertarians alike, showed much love for Big Pharma. One of the concerns is that the current model of drug development means that drug companies must focus on developing pharmaceuticals that they can later sell for high prices. High prices mean that poor people can’t get access to life saving treatments. To overcome this problem Aiden Hollis described the Health Impact Fund (HIF) proposal [pdf]. The proposal would offer drug companies a choice between seeking to recoup their investments using high prices as usual or registering their drugs with the HIF, which would require the firm to sell its product worldwide at an administered price near the average cost of production and distribution. The company would be compensated by a stream of payments based on the assessed global health impact of its drug. The HIF would be funded by governments to the tune of about $6 billion annually. James Love of Knowledge Ecology International wants to accomplish much the same thing by offering big prizes to the developers of medicines that aim to treat diseases rife in developing countries such as malaria, TB, and HIV. He would fund his prizes through a one percent tax on pharmaceutical sales which would raise about $4 billion annually in the U.S.
Many of the summiteers are oddly unaware of the role that Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation plays in creating high drug prices. For example, a PR consultant for the summit argued that the chief problem is that Big Pharma and Big Finance want to protect their unconscionable profits by crushing the nascent biotech open science movement. Perhaps so, but what summiteers miss is why this particular dysfunctional business ecosystem exists. Three letters: FDA. As annoying as the FDA regulators are to Big Pharma, the truth is that FDA regulation creates a huge barrier to entry for any new competing firm. This means that start-up biotechs have no chance of getting any therapeutic product approved since it takes years and hundreds of millions of dollars to get it past the hypercautious FDA.
A contrast with the IT industry is instructive. With information technology, a company develops a cool product, runs it out the door, and makes billions (or flops quickly). In biotech and pharmaceuticals, a company can’t do that. Developers of new treatments have to run an expensive and time consuming regulatory gauntlet before they can sell a single pill or shot. I suspect that if the information technology industry was regulated by the FDA we would still be using 50-lb. IBM 5100 “portable” computers costing over $80,000 in today’s dollars.
The foregoing is a taste of the smorgasbord of topics offered at the summit. Others included how do academic researchers get credit for open source contributions, how cure entrepreneurs are reshaping the research enterprise to focus on the development of new treatments, how open source biotechnology can enhance biosecurity, and how open source drug discovery can advance innovation. The summit wrapped up this weekend, having made a slight bit of progress toward its stated goal of organizing the various sub-communities of the Open Science Movement into an effective global force for rapid change in science and innovation policy. It’s a start.
Ronald Bailey is Reason’s science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.
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Michael Barnett|8.6.10 @ 9:42AM|#
Now that Kinsella has effectively annihilated the amateur Halling, what’s the next topic for debate?