Basic Research and Drug Company Patents

Mon Dec 21 10:03:31 EST 1992


   With escalating health care costs, many in the USA are looking to the
Canadian system as a possible model to emulate. Currently, the Canadian
government is under pressure, as part of its free-trade obligations, to
increase the period of patent protection for drugs  to bring this in line
with other countries. Thus, the Canadian health care consumer is
anticipating an increase in health care costs. There is much public
debate about the wisdom of adopting legislation which will please the
multinational drug firms, but displease the national proprietors of
"generics'.  The multinational companies are coating the pill by offering
to plough profits back into research. The following letter suggests that
perhaps it would be better for other countries to get in line with

Editor, The Globe & Mail,                             21st December 1992

                Patent Protection for Drug Companies

   As J.K.Galbraith points out so eloquently in The New Industrial State,
the primary goal of the heads of large multinational corporations is to
sustain their own security. To the extent that it serves this purpose,
maximization of profits is also sought. The worse dream of the head of a
large brand-name drug company is that, after the investment of millions
of dollars in preparing a new drug for market, there is a major research
advance so that the drug becomes redundant. It is much in the interest of
the drug companies to maintain the status quo. Progress in research must
be carefully monitored and controlled.  Increasing the period of patent
protection, as envisaged in current legislation, will increase their
commitment to the status quo.
   So what is all this talk about the companies providing more funds for
research, the very process which will disrupt the status quo? Yes, there
probably will be more fund for research, but you can be sure it will be
carefully directed. Those researchers willing to engage in clinical trials and
applied research will receive a generous bounty. The unspoken aim will be
to draw scarce resources (research space, skilled personnel) away from
those who are engaged in basic research. So long as basic researchers are
seen as "loose cannons" whose interests are directly opposed to those of
the drug firms, the firm's unspoken policy must be to persuade government
to rein in funding to the Medical Research Council (which supports most
of the basic research in Canada). Furthermore, they must persuade the
latter to sustain the peer review system which, as currently practiced,
effectively divides-and-rules the basic researchers.

                                      Donald R. Forsdyke, M.B., Ph.D.
                                      Department of Biochemistry,
                                      Queen's University, Canada

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