In an attempt to maximize patent profits, a zeal for devising derivative "copycat" or "me too" drugs instead of truly novel medications has come to dominate the medical-research landscape. The processes of medical research and publication have been distorted by the corporate agenda as pharmaceutical companies instruct researchers to withhold damaging data from studies and hire ghostwriters to package their marketing messages as scientific studies. With their eye on the bottom line, pharmaceutical companies even fund and oversee studies whose goal is to directly increase sales rather than to generate reliable scientific data.
See also: Interview with Harriet A. Washington.
Drug prices have soared as for-profit companies have assumed the direction of much medical research and have tended to place patent protection and profits above patient welfare. Companies and their university partners have even thwarted the work of some medical researchers, who have been forced to stop studies of needed medications because companies feared they would not be profitable enough or become the next billion-dollar blockbuster.
As profit potential has come to rule the research agenda, medications for common but relatively trivial ailments such as gastric distress and erectile dysfunction continue apace, but the killers that decimate poor developing nations — such as tuberculosis, cholera, and malaria — go largely ignored. As we'll learn, pharmaceutical makers slight the medical issues of the Third World, even as its populations constitute huge pools of laboratory subjects who save the corporate-university research consortium a great deal of money and time. U.S. medical research is exported to poor developing nations in India, Africa, and even Eastern Europe, where research is completed far more rapidly and cheaply than it could be in the United States, amid practices and risks that American citizens are not asked to accept.
Corporations, notably pharmaceutical companies, now work closely with universities and their researchers in order to stimulate research, innovation, and profitability. But we'll examine the deep inequalities of this alliance, with corporations holding the purse strings after a patentable entity has been developed, often with federal funds. The company that pays for R&D chooses which university's and scientist's candidate treatments to support, which to ignore, and which to abandon. Thus the legislative movement of the 1980s has created a medical-industrial complex that eventually robbed universities of their independence and seized control of medication design, costs, and even its evaluation in medical journals. This marriage, coupled with an American penchant for patenting an ever-wider range of living things, has not encouraged the production of important new cures, but rather has stymied it. The easy maximization of patent profits, not the arduous production of new drugs, has become the new corporate focus.
Also of interest: Are your painkillers killing you? >>
Excerpted from Deadly Monopolies by Harriet A. Washington. Copyright © 2011 by Harriet A. Washington. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.