Making Drugs That Count

The pharmaceutical industry gets a bad rap for spotting profit opportunities with better skill than medical opportunities. No doubt profit is their primary motive - their public companies, after all - but pharma probably doesn't get enough credit for its overall record at creating medicines that help us live better lives. Sure, they don't do everything we'd ask of them (see the orphan disease problem), but that's the bargain we've made in asking the free market to do the bulk of our medical research. That backdrop makes a new paper at Nature Medicine especially interesting - Carl Nathan is arguing for new ways to align drug research with medical needs. He has two principal recommendations:

First, open-access drug companies—fee-for-service sites within drug companies for collaborations among academics and biotechnology and pharmaceutical professionals, funded by users and government—would bring new ideas and expertise to the development of drugs inde- pendent of market drivers. Second, a patent track that rewards innovation in proportion to its impact on the global burden of disease would provide an incentive for pricing near the cost of production and commit govern- ment and business to improving health care delivery.

I find the open-access suggestion particularly intriguing - and not a little ironic, since he's publishing at Nature, which has struggled with open-access publishing of late. Funny he didn't decide to publish at PLoS Medicine instead...