How Big Pharma secures drug monopolies
Patently insane: How Big Pharma gouges drug prices
Tahir Amin: So the patent system has been a great driver of medical inventions. We've seen some terrific discoveries and inventions in the medical space. But as we've evolved in the system, I think we're starting to see-- as a lawyer who's practiced in this area, we're starting to see a lot of strategies that are played by pharmaceutical companies in order to maintain their monopolistic hold or their exclusivity hold over a particular product. And what they do is they ratchet up a number of patents around a particular product in order to prevent competition from getting in.
And we all know that once you have competition, prices drive down. There's a number of studies that show prices can drop more than 50% if you get competition in the marketplace sooner. So the idea that companies want to do is to basically prevent that competition from coming in earlier. And then the other argument of that is: are they then really inventing new things? Because what they do is they hold on to the marketplace as long as they can on the existing product.
They extend the franchise out by using patents, sometimes with the potential of holding the market for 40 years unless litigated. And we all know that litigation doesn't solve all the problems. And we've seen that in a number of the top-selling drugs in the United States. We've done studies as an organization where we have seen price hikes between 2012 and 2016 on the top 12 selling drugs in the United States have 68%.
And we've seen in parallel to that the number of patents that have been stacked up on those products, even after the product has been approved, even after the initial patent has expired, which is a 20 year term. And so they're just pushing it out further and further and further so that they can delay the competition getting in. And that all leads to market power and it all leads to the ability to increase prices at will.
If you look at a pharmaceutical company, the scientists who work there, the people who work on the development of drugs, their primary purpose is to help people, I believe. I genuinely believe that. I believe the conversations I've had with people from that sector. They believe that if they bring a new product to market and it saves someone's life or it can actually make somebody healthy, they really do believe that.
Unfortunately, there's a business side to it, as well. And so what you have is for every scientist, you have probably two lawyers who are watching over them saying, "OK, how can we extract a patent out of this and to make sure that nobody else gets in there?" And so what we have is then you have-- in particularly the pharmaceutical market, there's an argument that it's become overly financialized in terms of its investors who drive what companies do, rather than maybe the initially intended purpose was to deliver health products and to help make people not have to become ill and stay alive.
And I think some of that has got lost in the process as pharmaceutical companies now really start to look at their bottom line and their shareholders and what the investors want rather than what their original purpose was (to help people become healthier). And I think that the bargain of that has tilted more towards the financial-ization of things rather than thinking about health first.
I-MAK comprises lawyers and scientists who have come from the private practice background. We've all worked in industry. I myself have been a solicitor in the United Kingdom, working for the commercial side of intellectual property for over 10 years. And we've taken that knowledge to apply it in a public interest way, whereby we look at, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry, how do pharmaceutical corporations strategize their patent filings in order to get the maximum protection?
So what we do is, we look at a product, it could even be still in development, and we'll do what we call the due diligence and the analysis of all their patent filings. So for example, if it's a product that revolves around a small chemical compound, we'll identify what that chemical structure is, and then what we'll do is we'll do patent searches. There are various databases that you can use. We put in keywords, we will use compound searches, and then we'll find out what it is that the company has filed for. And then we track how many other patents that the company is adding on in the lifetime of the product.
And that way, we build up a sense of what is their entire portfolio around that particular product. And that then gives us a sense of what their strategy is, what potentially is the new version of the product that they may be lining up. So what they do is typically, products these days in the pharmaceutical market, they're on the market for five years and then they'll switch it out to the next version of the product. And these patents usually tell you what's coming down the line. And we use that essentially then to make decisions.
And often at the behest of organizations, such as Doctors Without Borders, who want to get access to these products, but they say "the patents are a barrier, the prices are too high." And then we'll investigate the science behind them as we're doing these analysis. And what we realize is many times, the science behind it is not new. And then at that point, we decide whether we want to challenge those patents in order to remove the barriers so that competition can get in earlier.
And by doing that, then we get generic competition in earlier if we're successful, and prices drop significantly. And we've achieved in various ways. For example, in India, we've been very successful with the HIV drug Kaletra, which is a product owned by Abbott Laboratories and now Abbvie. And we were able to challenge the key patents on their drug such that Abbott eventually withdrew all its patent applications, and Indian generic companies could continue to supply this particular product at a much lower price not only to Indian patients, but also many patients around the world, and particularly in Africa.
And so we were to keep that market at a much accessible way for people living with HIV/AIDS. And that, for us, has been one of the greatest successes. But more recently we've done it for the new Hepatitis C drugs. For example, just this year, we got a decision in the drug by Gilead called sofosbuvir. We were able to win a case in China. And China has 10 million people living with hepatitis C. And the fact that we won these two cases in China now has the potential for other actors to come in and supply the Chinese market, which could save conservatively, if you were just to treat 15% of the people living with hepatitis C in China, that would save $13 billion. So overall, our impact of our work has the potential of saving $1 billion to the various countries that then need to be able to get access to these drugs.
- Scores of people — including many beloved musicians and celebrities — are dying from perfectly legal pharmacutical drugs. And many big companies are profiting.
- After cornering the market, these giant corporations inflate the prices to gouge the consumer.
- Lowering drug prices could be obtained by starting first in the patent office.
To create wiser adults, add empathy to the school curriculum.
- Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
- Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
- Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
The future of education and work will rely on teaching students deeper problem-solving skills.
- Asking kids 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' is a question that used to make sense, says Jaime Casap. But it not longer does; the nature of automation and artificial intelligence means future jobs are likely to shift and reform many times over.
- Instead, educators should foster a culture of problem solving. Ask children: What problem do you want to solve? And what talents or passions do you have that can be the avenues by which you solve it?
- "[T]he future of education starts on Monday and then Tuesday and then Wednesday and it's constant and consistent and it's always growing, always improving, and if we create that culture I think that would bring us a long way," Casap says.
These Jurassic predators resorted to cannibalism when hit with hard times, according to a deliciously rare discovery.
- Rare fossil evidence of dinosaur cannibalism among the Allosaurus has been discovered.
- Scientists analyzed dinosaur bones found in the Mygatt-Moore Quarry in western Colorado, paying special attention to bite marks that were present on 2,368 of the bones.
- It's likely that the predatory carnivore only ate their already-dead peers during times when resources were scarce.
This is what the world will look like, 250 million years from now
To us humans, the shape and location of oceans and continents seems fixed. But that's only because our lives are so short.
As a doctor, I am reminded every day of the fragility of the human body, how closely mortality lurks just around the corner.