Dozens of drug companies are racing to develop an effective vaccine for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. But the successful discovery may have a bad ending.
Some members of the United States House of Representatives have stated that they intend to take away patent protection from coronavirus vaccine developers. They want to make sure that one or two companies don't make excessive profits on a drug that is desperately needed by both Americans and others around the world.
We understand the concern: There have been examples of some drugs carrying very high prices, so much so that patients and their health insurance companies can't afford to pay for them.
We'd also hate to see a successful vaccine go unused because of a huge price. But a federal government takeover of a pharmaceutical could have the opposite effect -- and disastrous consequences.
Drug discovery is very expensive. We read the statistics about how so many experiments and drug trials don't result in a successful drug that can be widely used. It's a natural process: scientists get a good idea, work hard to see if it works, evaluate any side effects, and get permission to test it on humans. If it doesn't work, they move on to another idea.
It's a system that we should like: lots of good ideas, and a rigorous system to make sure everything is just right before prescribing it widely.
The rare winning drug should be profitable enough to pay for itself, plus all those other good ideas that didn't work. Patents help to make sure the drug formula isn't stolen by another company. The company that invented it deserves the profit, not the thief that takes something developed by someone else.
If there wasn't potential profit for the success, why would anyone work to develop a new drug? Scientists deserve a paycheck as much as any other worker, especially when their work can be so remarkably valuable.
We can see why politicians like to make researchers look like bad guys: it makes politicians look like good guys. By introducing a bill that promises to take successful drugs away from the companies that developed them, voters will think their politician is making medicine available for free or a very low cost. That's how to win an election.
But if drug development seizes up, and no more medicines come along, is that a good thing?
-- Jon M. Hunter