Friday, May 29, 2009

CL, greed and shampoo

I got a comment from one reader on the subject of A(H1N1) and compulsory licensing (CL). He said that CL will "taper the greed of these 'innovator' companies.... Medicines should not be treated like any commercial item for sale. CL is the equaliser of the poor countries.... New diseases are golden opportunities for these companies to make more money. I even suspect that some viruses and diseases are created for this purpose."

For us non-producers of a particular material good (medicines, cellphones, shoes, etc.), we can only surmise that the "reasonable" price of something should be only 70% or 30% or just 1% of its actual retail price, and that the greed factor is more than 100%, more than 1,000%, or more than 15,000%. As consumers, we want things to be as cheap as possible, free whenever necessary. So we hate to see something that we deem to be "expensive", even if that expensive thing or service can save our lives or the lives of the people we love, and we conjure or surmise the above figures even if we know very little about the entire research and production process.

With continued use and issuance of CL, it is possible that it will taper the greed factor of innovator pharma companies. It is also possible that the latter will focus their research capability in producing better drugs for skin whiteners, gargles and mouthwash, shampoo, breast or penis enlargers, libido enhancers, etc. Here, if you are an innovator, you will make huge money with zero threat of confiscation of your invention. But if you make an effective medicine against AIDS or swine flu (or dog flu, cat flu, horse flu, etc. in the future), there is always a threat of confiscation of your invention. So you take huge risks.

This conspiracy theory that certain viruses and diseases were created by the innovator companies so that they will make more money, is really fascinating. It's like rightist political parties and politicians were encouraged by the leftist political parties so the latter will have something to lambast and attack. Or those extreme sports and full-body contact sports were invented by orthopedic hospitals and their doctors so that more people will have broken legs, arms and collarbones, and they will make lots of money.

Yes, we need to take a stand against greed. That is why the number of innovator companies should be in the hundreds, not in the dozens. I would like to see hundreds of them slashing each other's throats to develop more blockbuster medicines to beat their rivals, then us consumers and patients will benefit with plenty of choices. I checked the PhRMA website, the organization of innovator pharma companies in America. I counted only 30 such innovator companies. Whereas there are hundreds of hotel chains, of fastfood chains, of dress designers and manufacturers, etc.

India alone has about 22,000 pharma companies. Great. It's just that about 99 percent of them perhaps are generics and copycat manufacturers. The European Council estimates that about three-fourth of all counterfeit medicines circulating around the world are originating from India. This is not the kind of competition that I want to see -- thousands of manufacturers producing cheap but unsafe medicines.

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