Material of Interest to People on the Left 

EVERY NEW DRUG SINCE 2010   [https://portside.org/node/16665] 


 Alexander Zaitchik 
 March 1, 2018

	* [https://portside.org/node/16665/printable/print]

 _ A sweeping study of drug R&D funding shows the public pays for the
crucial foundations of medical breakthroughs. So why not let the
public have access to them? _ 



Something odd happened when the Trump administration submitted the
original version of its latest pro-corporate budget: Big Pharma
didn’t like it.

The problem wasn’t a tax hike or new regulations: the problem was
that the budget included deep cuts to the budget of the National
Institutes of Health.

If those cuts had gone through, they would have exposed one of the
biggest lies told about Big Pharma: that the current system of patents
and price-gouging is just an unfortunate necessity to cover the cost
of all their brave and noble R&D work.


Trump’s original spending proposal for fiscal year 2019, released
last month, included major cuts to not just to the NIH, but the
National Science Foundation as well. It is those two publicly funded
entities — not Big Pharma — that support the bulk of the
country’s basic research into diseases and pathways to new

That’s why the cuts were especially unwelcome in the executive
suites of drug and biotech companies. Their business models depend on
Washington subsidizing expensive, high-risk basic research, mostly
through the vast laboratory network funded by the NIH.

Just how important is our publicly funded research to Big Pharma and
Biotech? According to a new study
[http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2018/02/06/1715368115] by a small,
partly industry-funded think tank called the Center for Integration of
Science and Industry (CISI), it is existentially important. No NIH
funds, no new drugs, no patents, no profits, no industry.

The CISI study, underwritten by the National Biomedical Research
Foundation, mapped the relationship between NIH-funded research and
every new drug approved by the FDA between 2010 and 2016. The authors
found that each of the 210 medicines approved for market came out of
research supported by the NIH. Of the $100 billion it spent nationally
during this period, more than half of it — $64 billion — ended up
helping the development of 84 first-in-class drugs.

But the NIH doesn’t get to use the profits from these drugs to fund
more research, the way it might under a model based on developing
needed drugs and curing the sick, as opposed to serving Wall Street.
Instead, publicly funded labs conduct years of basic research to get
to a breakthrough, which is then snatched up, tweaked, and patented
(privatized) by companies who turn around and reap billions
with 1,000-times-cost mark-ups
[http://www.thebodypro.com/content/78658/1000-fold-mark-up-for-drug-prices-in-high-income-c.html] on
drugs developed with taxpayer money.

Those companies then spend the profits on executive bonuses and share
buybacks, and lavish mass marketing campaigns to increase sales of
amphetamines, benzos, opioids, and dick pills.

And with what’s left over, they lobby to keep threats to this
massive scam at bay, all while scooping up more NIH-funded
breakthroughs and starting the process anew.

This scam is worth a lot of money and is not easily messed with, as
sacred as federal research benefiting military contractors. After
Trump reversed his proposed research cuts last month, Bloomberg
published an investor-soothing excuse article with the title, “The
NIH appears Trump-proof.” The reporter, Max Nisen, explained, “NIH
funds [are] a backbone of the research ecosystem on which [biotech and
drug companies] depend. The better the NIH does, the better they

The new CISI study was actually designed and written to reinforce this
status quo: By showing federal research to be crucial to the current
drug-pipeline, its authors hoped to provide ballast against Trump’s
proposed cuts, which threatened the development of new drugs.

The study stops there, but for those not committed to the current
system of patents and profit, its findings provide a leaping-off point
to bigger questions. Such as:

If government-funded science is doing such a great job at basic
research, why not provide additional funding for the development and
testing of drugs?

If private industry isn’t doing basic research, and continues to gut
long-flat-lined R&D budgets, what the hell are they spending their
money on? (That one has an answer; see graph below)

Why are we allowing drug companies to gain proprietary control over
taxpayer-funded research, then turn around and price-gouge those same
taxpayers to literal death?

These are the questions driving a growing Drug Access movement that
seeks to replace the current monopoly-patent paradigm with open
science collaborations, generic license regimes, and a “NASA for
drugs” focused on developing critical, life-saving medicines and
ensuring they remain affordable.

You think this looks bad? Imagine if they hadn’t differentiated
between types of marketing.

For advocates of this new paradigm, the CISI data amplifies what
they’ve been saying for years.

“The CISI study is further evidence of a broken system where
taxpayers fund the riskier part of drug development, then once the
medicines show promise, they are often privatized under patent
monopolies that lock in exorbitant prices for 20 years or longer,”
says Bryn Gay, Hepatitis C Project Co-Director at the Treatment Action

As an example, Gay points to new hepatitis C drugs that have become a
global rallying cry for an end to drug patent monopolies. After the
NIH funded $62.4 million for the basic science behind the breakthrough
drug sofosbuvir, it was purchased by the firm Gilead for $11 billion.
Gilead then turned around and priced at up to six-figures, even though
a 12-week treatment course of costs less than $100 to produce.

“Companies have raked in profits of over $70 billion from hep C
medicines, yet companies like Gilead and Janssen have walked away from
additional hep C research, such as for a preventative vaccine,” says
Gay. “The impact of NIH-funded research again demonstrates that we
need to increase government funding for infectious and neglected
diseases. We can’t rely on Pharma to set R&D agendas shaped by how
much profit can be generated.”

Dean Baker, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy
Research, believes a publicly funded system is possible. A
start-to-finish government drug pipeline, he estimates, would result
in an 80 percent drop in the $450 billion Americans currently spend on
prescription drugs. He estimates that the government could fund the
development and testing of new drugs for an additional $50 and $80
billion a year — roughly the amount of money drug corporations have
made from the hep C treatment alone.

“The industry wants us to believe the government can fund good basic
research, but is incapable of developing and testing new drugs,”
says Baker. That is, of course, not true. “[The CISI] analysis shows
the enormously important government role in developing new drugs. We
should start asking questions about how the government can see the
process through so [new drugs] could be sold at generic prices the day
they are approved by the FDA.”

Baker also notes a government-run drug pipeline would likely result in
safer drugs as well as cheaper drugs, as all clinical tests would be
made fully public as a condition of funding.

The lords of the current paradigm fear rigorous and transparent
clinical trials almost as much as paying for their own R&D. Last year,
when the industry and its political allies drafted the 21st Century
Cures Act, everybody cheered its cancer “moonshot” funding, but
few noticed the section weakening the rules and regulatory oversight
[https://medcitynews.com/2015/08/21st-century-cures-jama/] around
clinical trials.

In other words, the same people getting rich off your taxes are
willing to risk your life and a slap on the regulatory wrist for a
slightly faster route from NIH-funded science to the bank.


_Alexander Zaitchik is a freelance journalist whose writing has
appeared in Rolling Stone, New York Times, The Guardian, Vice, and
many others. He is the author of Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the
Triumph of Ignorance; The Gilded Rage: A Wild Ride Through Donald
Trump's America; and Out of the Ooze: The Story of Dr. Tom Price._

_This piece is part of the _Drug Prices are Too High_ series,
sponsored by Social Security Works. If you want to take on Big Pharma
and lower drug prices, sign our petition here.

	* [https://portside.org/node/16665/printable/print]







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