Zeuslax wrote:The research to price arguement is virtually a myth. Universities are mostly picking up the tab with "sponsorship".
Not necessarily true. Look at the drug Taxol...
Holton remembers Suffness telling him that the NCI (National Cancer Institute) was getting out of the Taxol business. It had become the tail wagging the dog—there simply was no way the government could justify the enormous costs of keeping Taxol in the pipeline. By 1988, developing Taxol had cost the NCI over $25 million. Other promising compounds were getting squeezed out of the competition because of this single, impossible-to-get molecule. It was time for the NCI to bail on Taxol.
In other words, the government was eager to find a deep-pocket pharmaceutical company willing to take a chance on turning Taxol into a marketable drug. Thanks to a novel tool Congress had just created via the Federal Technology Transfer Act of 1986, Suffness & Co. could legally hand over the commercial rights to Taxol—a substance found and then preened all the way to the market's front door by taxpayer dollars—to any private company the NCI chose.
In August 1989, the agency advertised that it had a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) to grant the company submitting the best proposal. Four companies rose to the bait, including Rhone-Poulenc which held the French Taxol patents, and the New Jersey-based pharmaceutical giant, Bristol-Myers, soon destined to merge with Squibb, another huge pharma. To no one's real surprise, in December, the CRADA went to Bristol.
The decision would be second-guessed for a few years to come—in fact becoming the focus of a Congressional hearing in 1991—but the fact was that Bristol-Myers had done its homework. It helped that the company had built a good track record in working with the feds on a previous drug, DDI, an early treatment for AIDS. But the company's proposal to the NCI chieftains showed that it had thoroughly investigated Taxol's number-one problem—the supply dilemma—and had worked out detailed plans for dealing with it. One of the rounds in Bristol's chamber was what it had learned from talking to the folks down in Tallahassee.
Handed the keys to Taxol, Bristol took off. The company consolidated control over the entire bark collection and compound extraction apparatus out west, picking up the NCI's contract with the Boulder, Colorado-based Hauser Chemical Research Corporation. Then, on April Fool's Day, 1990, the company signed a contract that changed forever not only the future of Taxol, but of Florida State University and one of the most fortunate faculty members ever to set foot on a college campus.
Although FSU officials couldn't know it at the time, they had just brokered the deal of a research university's lifetime. Bristol-Myers Squibb was handed an exclusive licensing agreement to use Bob Holton's spanking new semisynthesis patent plus any related patents that his research might cook up over the next five years. In exchange, FSU was entitled to royalties on any money Bristol made using any of its Taxol patents, and Holton got a five-year research collaboration deal with Bristol chemists worth $1.7 million.
FSU also got Bristol to agree to cover all costs associated with patenting anything Holton's lab came up with, including Taxol derivatives. At the time the agreement was signed there were no such animals. But Holton knew they were right around the corner. His relentless pursuit of total synthesis, now stoked with new money, would most likely generate a bunch of them, and soon.
Without undue fanfare, in January 1993, Taxol—now officially trademarked as a Bristol product—made its debut in cancer pharmacology. Trumpeted as the most important cancer—fighting drug to come along in two decades, Taxol finally stood—a fully fledged cancer drug—before the world's marketplace.
From bark to business, the molecule's development had taken 31 years, had cost the government roughly $32 million, and had already hit up its foster parents, Bristol-Myers Squibb, for 10 times that in ramp-up costs. Before 1993 ended, a single gram of the new drug was selling for $5,846. Taxol was hobnobbing with the priciest potions ever made.
Without big Pharm, Taxol would never have made it to market and people would have died. It is that simple. FSU did not support the research beyond providing a lab space but has received hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties. If companies are going to be attacked for huge profits then the universities should be as well.
Back on topic...just 20 minutes ago on NPR, Juan Williams was commenting about Sen. Obama needing to define what he believes in because no one can tell after his FISA and Iraq reversals.
Cliff Stryker Buck, Ph.D.
Department of Oceanography
Florida State University