October 22, 2005

Sorry for this latest delay. Seems this lethargy that has been gnawing at the edges of my effectiveness all week was an influenza trying to catch on ... and now it has. Not that this is exactly a new thing, this month: drove it off once before and then again, far too much documented in this blog -- but seems this latest guest likes this abode. Ah well. Consider it the balance for the months and years before when I had gone completely without so much as a cold.

Probably for my own peace of mind I should not be reading just now the many scare-articles about the bird flu cropping up across the Internet like viruses. (Not that reading comes easily in any case, when the words keep fever-blurring on me.) Yet of late I have been starting to see other, societal symptoms suggesting a mushrooming apologia for multinational drug companies. The basic concept seems to be to that the multinational pharmaceutical corporations generally (and especially Roche, the patent-holder for Tamiflu) should be allowed greater leeway of action -- any action, whether or not valid tort exists against them -- to allow them uniquely to be able to manufacture enough of the drug to deal with the looming epidemic.

(Opinion remains split on whether any of the current lawsuits against various multinational drug manufacturers are legitimate. Some identify questionable science in a few cases and extrapolate to all. In this context I note that it is impossible to demonstrate scientifically a clear cause-effect without a double-blind controlled, and sometimes longitudinal trial: something ethically questionable to undertake where harm is suspected. It should also be noted that until very recently -- as remains the case in most world countries -- pharmaceutical companies have been under no obligation whatsoever to release all the results of their research, but could do so as selectively as they wished. Thus negative results for marketed products had been rarely, if ever, reported by the pharmaceutical company prior to or during product release: not because they did not exist but because there was no legal obligation to do so, so long as at least some positive outcome trials existed. Thus negative outcomes would rarely be discovered by the public until such discovery was first-hand.)

It is true enough that within the capitalist system which has birthed these entities, corporate research and development requires some measure of economic incentive to make such research viable. Above and beyond product sales, such incentive is also provided in part by patent protection which is intended to grant the researching corporation or individual a specific time-limited monopoly on the developed product ... in theory at least: the nature of a patent is that process and structure must be made public to be patented, thus rendering it vulnerable. (The either-or threat, unspoken as yet, is government-sponsored piracy: by way of acting in the public interest to secure Tamiflu for its population independent of private enterprise.) Some companies choose instead to sidestep patent protection and retain secrecy instead: but for pharmaceutical companies this is not an option.

In this latest trend, I see a willingness born of panic to cede any and all legal rights of mid- to long-term protection in favour of possible short-term protection in the face of any perceived threat. Watch for legislation and judiciary decisions to be framed so as to increasingly wedge open the door to extension of patent protection periods and complete corporate freedom from product consequences, as well as imposing ever tighter restrictions on generics/clones.

No limit to profiteering from panic though, is there?

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