MyScienceWork was at the World Research and Innovation Congress that took place in Brussels in June. The event was aimed at not only researchers, but also policy makers and members of industry. Among dozens of interesting talks, we chose to talk about an idea promoted by Carl Schlyter, deputy at the European Parliament, which would radically change the current funding model of the health sector.
(Credit: Flickr / Images_of_Money)
In most, if not all, developed countries, health costs are a major problem. In the UK, they account for 8% of the GDP; in France, more than 11%; 16% in the US, and these numbers keep increasing. In the era of personalized drugs and treatments, “accessible” health is already a major problem. Having it “cheap” belongs to the domain of dreams.
Yet, health is a topic concerning the public domain. Arguments around this idea vary among countries. Some offer support based on solidarity, others don't consider health a part of the market economy. Indeed, you don't usually think “What should I buy this month? A new car, or should I get that leukemia treatment?” Most health expenses are, in the end, supported by society as a whole. This includes the cost of marketing a drug, where savings could be achieved through prize funding.
Today's commercial drug development is driven by the hope of finding a new blockbuster, a hyper-profitable new cure. Once this new drug is found, it is patented, and the corporations earn money through licensing. Drug development is a very risky and costly thing, but changing either the risk factor or the cost of new drug development might not be in the hands of policy makers. However, being a big pharma company doesn't mean only being an expert in R&D, it also means having significant marketing power. Marketing expenses are of the same magnitude as R&D.
The idea promoted by Carl Schlyter is about changing this licensing system. The European deputy proposes to launch prize funding of health research. Prizes would be dedicated to all major diseases for which a drug is needed. Hence, any major advance would be rewarded. Of course, a drug that passed all clinical trials would be much more highly rewarded than a promising new molecule that is far from becoming a commercial product.
In exchange for these prizes, the intellectual property linked to the drug would fall into the public domain, enabling its production as what we know today as a generic drug and, thus, eliminating all licensing costs.
This would not solve the problem that drug research is risky, costly, and that some researchers will never be rewarded for their work. Neither will it solve the fact that drug research is a very capitalistic-intensive activity.
Some questions remain around such a model. First of all, the main gain sought is around marketing costs. Would pharmaceutical companies cut these costs? Or will they market even their generic blockbusters? If marketing can increase sales of non-patented product, we could expect that marketing would remain (or maybe increase) no matter the copyright.
Secondly, the model is unclear on what would provide incentive for corporations. Would they be forced to be part of the prize model system? Would they have it as an option after the drug discovery? Under this hypothesis, the offered prize would have to be much higher than the potential earnings, since sales are also a good way to amortize investments.
Find out more:
Interview with Carl Schlyter, MEP, on issues regarding European environment, public health and food safety