Pharmaceuticals Anonymous

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Diagnosis: Greed

Sir William Osler

"About three decades ago, it became possible to make serious money as a university researcher. Not that the money was so bad before, of course. It was respectable. But it wasn’t Wall Street-type money.
That changed in the early 1980s with the passage of legislation that allowed universities to patent their publicly funded research results and then grant exclusive licenses to pharmaceutical companies. The public-private wall came down. The universities received royalties on the drugs, and the royalties were split between the researchers and the departments. Start-up companies were spun off and sold. University researchers became, essentially, partners to industry.

The change wasn’t just structural, however. There was a cultural shift, a kind of boundary melt.
“Greed became respectable,” Angell, a professor of global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School and the former editor in chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, recalled. “There used to be a sort of tension between doing well and doing good for medical researchers. If they wanted to make a lot of money in a high-risk sort of job they could work for industry. If they wanted to do important, exciting research they stayed in academia and they had a comfortable life but not great wealth.

“Before 1980, they were aware of this tension,” she said. “Before 1980, those who went into industry were held in some disdain. With Reagan, all this changed. There was a strong feeling that the world divided into winners and losers. In medical research this just has had enormous implications.”

It’s had enormous implications for our world generally. On Wall Street, change had to come via catastrophe. Let’s hope it won’t take a disaster to bring sense back to medicine."

Article here.

Also see BLIND FAITH, a four-part series about Pharma blandishments in Academe, here.