Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The whole truth

In sworn testimony in an employment lawsuit Dr. Edmund Tramont, head of AIDS research at the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID/NIH) did what he was supposed to do: told the truth about Big Pharma and the AIDS vaccine.
In an unusually candid admission, the federal chief of AIDS research says he believes drug companies don't have an incentive to create a vaccine for the HIV and are likely to wait to profit from it after the government develops one.

And that means the government has had to spend more time focusing on the processes that drug companies ordinarily follow in developing new medicines and bringing them to market.

"We had to spend some time and energy paying attention to those aspects of development because the private side isn't picking it up," Dr. Edmund Tramont testified in a deposition in a recent employment lawsuit obtained by The Associated Press.


"If we look at the vaccine, HIV vaccine, we're going to have an HIV vaccine. It's not going to be made by a company," Tramont said. "They're dropping out like flies because there's no real incentive for them to do it. We have to do it."

"They will eventually — if it works, they won't have to make that big investment. And they can make it and sell it and make a profit," he said. (AP via Canadian TV)
As Tramont acknowledged in a follow-up email to the AP, this isn't just a problem for the AIDS vaccine, but vaccines in general. The countries that are most in need cannot afford to pay enough to result in the obscenely high profits drug companies can make selling impotence drugs or psychoactive agents that are taken on an ongoing basis, so they wait for taxpayers to pick up the research and development costs and if it suits them, they move in later to scarf up the profits.

The Republican congress, led by Senator Bill ("Dr. Quackenbush") Frist has come up with a perfect solution. Indemnify or immunize the pharmaceutical industry prospectively against lawsuits (using the need for incentives) while letting them profit from the publicly sponsored research as before.

We've said it before and we'll say it again: if the "market" doesn't work, don't interfere with the market by forcing it (see here and here). As with other matters of national defense, produce the vaccines with public funds or under the usual contract mechanism instead of letting Big Pharma gain exclusive rights via licensing and patents to which they are not entitled.