I know I have been pounding on this a lot, but it is important and there is a lot of money at stake. All we need (okay, maybe not all) is some clear thinking.
The Washington Post had a good piece this week talking about how a company set up by a hedge fund, with no background or expertise in pharmacology, arranged to get rights to a drug that was developed by researchers at Emory University on a $16 million contract with the government. The drug, EIDD-2801, is thought to be a potential treatment for the coronavirus. Shortly after arranging to buy the rights to the drug, the company turned around and sold them to Merck, presumably for a substantial profit.
The piece highlights how some companies are likely to profit off government-funded research, often while contributing little or nothing to developing effective vaccines or treatments. We also face the likelihood that any vaccines or treatments that are developed will be sold at high prices by companies that were granted patent monopolies.
But this is only the beginning of the problem with the U.S. government’s approach for developing a vaccine or treatments for the pandemic. The U.S. approach encourages secrecy in research. Companies are racing to get valuable patents. This gives pharmaceutical companies an incentive to keep as much of their research secret as possible, in order not to give away valuable information to competitors.