12. Finance drug, stem-cell, treatment, and disease-prevention research and development
This is a no-brainer, a slam-dunk, a solution-looking-for-a-problem. An overwhelming majority of the people of this country agree; the Democratic Party agrees; the Green Party agrees; the overwhelming majority of the people of the world agree – this is an important policy, and research should be underwritten at a high level of funding.
The 2008 election will dramatically change the current political landscape on this item. The social-conservative/religious- fundamentalist block will lose control of the executive branch of the federal government, and laws to enable and to enlarge this research will pop up like Bluebonnets in Texas after a warm Spring rain.
There are some related steps that should be implemented in order to facilitate such research. First approach would be to reorganize the drug-related division of the Food and Drug Administration. Instead of research and support of research, we currently have a rubber-stamp, desktop review of whatever products Big PhRMA wants to send to market. In the old days the FDA actually ran inspections and analyzed a fairly legitimate sampling of food and drug products. Plus they could mobilize for a relatively quick analytical check of products for contamination in emergency cases – witness the early episodes of product tampering. My recollection is that they knew what was happening almost as soon as the first couple of occurences; then, soon after, knew how it was being done; then suggested solutions in terms of seals; then forced implementation of these solutions. All in all it seemed to me to be quite a successful set of actions. I propose that we re-establish the FDA’s former methods and rebuild their analytical capabilities in order for them to play an activist role in research and testing.
Secondly, we need to eliminate the protections that PhRMA enjoys currently in terms of foreign competition and of alternative systems. This is merely a political decision in that much of the data is available. We know that, for examples, Canadian, Indian, French, and Cuban pharmaceuticals are safe and effective. If we look – and if we test – we will find out that many other sources are available and suitable – and inexpensive. Now, according to Big PhRMA, this will be counter-productive in that their huge margins are used to finance the research that brings us such medical miracles as Acetaminophen, Viagra, Lipitor, and Vioxin. Wow – just what we needed – substitutes for aspirin and good-health practices.
In fact the real research that touches the frontiers of medical science are often done by the teaching/research hospitals – generally, university-related. This research is driven by the best instincts of our society; and this is the research that should be financed. On the other hand, drug companies have no motive for stem-cell research, because there is so much “prior art” (as they call it in the U.S. Patent Office) that patent protection for a specific approach to “cultivation” will be unlikely – especially since the Patent Office is now trying to reduce the number of patents issued for small and obvious changes to an existing process or product. Moreover, it is likely that stem-cell therapies will be very idiosyncratic to the individual patient. Mass production techniques may not be particularly useful, and, currently, that is the field where Big PhRMA plays.
The main problem will be that the current administrative debacle will leave so many revenue holes, due to the need to restart, repair, and rebuild federal programs and properties, that there will not be much left to finance this part of the program. Unless ….
Unless we incorporate some of the other elements of this 15-point program, such as tax increases for the rich, as in Position Paper # 1; such as STOPping socialism for the rich, as in Position Paper # 9; such as ending the War on Drugs, as in Position Paper # 11. There really is a pile of money available, if reasonable decisions are made about priorities. Once again, it is a fairly easy decision for the vast majority of us: Either let the super-rich run the show for their own benefit, fund the waste spending of the military – particular emphasis on the Iraq Occupation, fund all of the irrational programs like the War on Drugs; or take the money away from these harmful agents and programs and put the money into obvious and beneficial programs, such as stem-cell research. This should not be a difficult decision.