Saturday, January 2, 2016

Without “Big Pharma,” Government Research Would Be Useless

New Jersey state Senator Richard J. Codey has “introduced a [NJ] Senate Resolution, SR-121, urging Congress to double Alzheimer's research funding in fiscal year 2016 and to develop a plan for fiscal years 2017 through 2020 to increase funding to $2 billion annually so that we can reach our national goal of preventing and effectively treating Alzheimer's by 2025.”

In response, Bill Keller of Scotch Plains, NJ, submitted a letter to the NJ Star-Ledger, published in print on 6/15/15, Demanding Real Cures for Research Investments. After praising Cody for his “concern,” Keller writes:

[B]efore the tax payers [sic] hand over any more research money to the National Institutes of Health, we'd like to know what it has to show for the annual $6 billion on cancer research and the $2 billion on cardiovascular disease research it receives.

Why didn't Sen. Codey include this in his plea for $2 billion for Alzheimer's disease research? These research "sink holes" are fronts for Big Pharma to come up with new drugs which they sell for big profit to the hapless public who indirectly finance these through the research grants in the first place. Let's start demanding real cures for these research investments.

I left these comments, edited for clarity:

  • I take cholesterol-lowering drugs, which lessen my chances of suffering and dying from heart disease.
  • A life-long friend of mine takes pain medication for chronic back pain, enabling her to live an active, pain-free life in retirement.
  • My son-in-law was cured of cancer by drugs at the age of 21. He’s now 41, and still cancer-free.
  • My grandson was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease two and a half years ago, but today this debilitating, growth arresting, life-threatening disease is in remission—thanks to the man-made miraculous drugs he takes—and my grandson is growing and flourishing like a normal 15 year-old.

These are just a few examples from my personal experience of the benefits of profit-seeking pharmaceutical companies. I could list plenty more. If you open your eyes, you’ll see millions upon millions of people whose suffering has been alleviated and lives extended by real treatments and cures produced and marketed by profit-seeking pharmaceutical companies.

Some of those cures start with basic research funded by government. But that research funding comes from taxpayers. The government shouldn’t be selling that research to pharmaceutical companies. It should be giving it away. Pharmaceutical companies, their investors, and their employees are taxpayers. Taxpayers own the research because they paid for it, and any taxpayer should have access to that research at no extra charge. The government shouldn’t be taxing us to pay out research grants to politically-connected scientists and research institutions to begin with. But as long as it does, pharmaceutical companies, being taxpayers and part of “the hapless public who indirectly finance these through the research grants in the first place,” have a right to that research. By charging extra for it, the government is double-dipping.

Nor should the government “start demanding real cures for these research investments.” Those “investments” belong to the taxpayers in the first place, and should not have to satisfy any conditions for accessing what they already own.

And what do pharma companies do with that research? They do the really hard work of turning the research into commercial—i.e., usable, beneficial—end products that improve health. Basic research is only a starting point. That research doesn’t miraculously turn into cures. What follows basic research is hundreds of $billions and years of work trying to turn that basic research into drugs that treat our myriad ailments. Ayn Rand, in her talent for succinctness,
correctly identified the unsung, often demonized, heroes of industrial progress:

The professional businessman is the field agent of the army whose lieutenant-commander-in-chief is the scientist. The businessman carries scientific discoveries from the laboratory of the inventor to industrial plants, and transforms them into material products that fill men’s physical needs and expand the comfort of men’s existence.

Rand didn’t just say it: She concretized the indispensable role of productive businessmen in Atlas Shrugged.

And there are no guarantees that any of Big—or for that matter Little—Pharma’s $billions will produce profit. There are many blind alleys on the road to commercialization of scientific knowledge, especially the development of useful drugs. To demand “real cures for these research investments” is to demand the impossible from pharma companies—omniscience. Such a condition attached to access to the government's basic research is to stop all drug development, which would end up leaving the basic research just a pile of useless data—which is all it is until profit-seeking  “Big Pharma” turns that knowledge into valuable drugs.

The pharma companies don’t profit from a “hapless public.” Nor do they profit from the 9 out of 10 drugs that fail to get out of the development stage, despite enormous expense. Pharma companies profit from the useful drugs that get approved and start helping people. Profit is both the reward for creating valuable, life-saving, life-enhancing products, and the incentive for pursuing them in the first place. No cures. No profits. To condemn Big Pharma’s “big profits” is to ignore and condemn millions of people who are helped by their products.

I don’t generally use nor like terms that end in “phobia”; e.g., “Islamophobia,” “homophobia.” But in this case, the term fits. Bill Keller is a pharmaphobe. He has let his irrational bias against “Big Pharma” profits cloud his judgement, leading him into the cruel position of putting death and suffering over profits.

Related Reading:

"Government Investment" = Money Laundering

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