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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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April 13, 2005

A Steeplechase of Dead Horses

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Posted by Derek

Health care (and its discontents) seems to be popping up all over the left-of-center blog world this week. (I believe that we have Paul Krugman column in the New York Times to thank for this.)

I don't have the energy reserves at the moment to argue macroeconomic health care issues. And besides, let's be realistic here: my chances of convincing anyone with strongly held views at variance with my own are effectively nil, just as are their chances of convincing me. People with strong opinions argue because it makes them feel better, not because they really plan to convince their opponent. (Undecided types in the middle are another matter, but most of those folks quietly leave the room when the voices get raised.)

What I have noticed, though, are several outbreaks in the comments to those posts of what I'll call the Goozner/Angell Canard: that drugs are found by selfless researchers working with NIH money entrusted to them by the Little Guy, and that said drugs are then snatched from their labs by Big Pharma, who patent the stuff and roll around in the profits like a dog in cut grass. I think I have that worldview about right.

Well, not for the first time (and not for the last, that's for sure), allow me to say that this is a load of manure. I went into table-pounding detail about this issue last fall, and I won't repeat myself. The short course, for anyone who cares: Academic research, although vital, rarely discovers so much as a starting compound for a drug development effort. That's not their job. And developing a drug is a lot harder and more expensive than many people seem to think, and it's getting tougher all the time. That's why we charge so much money. There, that's about as compact as it gets.

Personally, I prefer the weltanschauung of the folks over at Marginal Revolution, but to each his own.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category:


1. steve on April 13, 2005 9:16 PM writes...

The american health care system is a poorly-structured situation. Attaching health insurance to a particular job, for instance, is an awful way to do things. There are various problems.

The health care mess is a lot more complicated than how much companies charge for Bextra and Levitra. Here's a good article about how we Americans are buying pounds of cure instead of ounces of prevention.

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2. SP on April 15, 2005 10:28 AM writes...

The argument over drugs is a straw man- as you say, some commenters bring it up, but that's not the substance of any of the "left-of-center" arguments against the current system. The important issues are things like preventive care vs. waiting until you're sick and going to an emergency room, or the market distortions that result from losing your health care if you decide you hate your current job. In fact, changing to a more rational system would probably have great benefits for drug companies, both from a sales perspective (the top sellers are in preventive areas like hypertension and cholesterol) and from a business perspective (drug companies waste lots of money paying for their employees' health care, just like GM and Microsoft.)

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3. jeet on April 15, 2005 3:58 PM writes...

the center of center folks at have put up some good graphs of comparative spending and outputs in G7 countries.

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4. Matthew Holt on April 26, 2005 3:34 PM writes...

The healthcare system in the US has "convinced" the rest of society to fund it with one dollar in every seven, wheras in other countries the rest of society has stopped and said
a) should we really be spending all that much on health care when our marginal rate of return is not that great -- this is what Enthoven calls "flat of the curve" medicine
b) if we're going to pay all this money to the health care types, shouldn't they be taking care of all of us in society -- rather than leaving 10-20% of the popuation to throw itself on charity and back on the taxpayer?

Derek, that is ALL THERE IS in the "lefty argument" debate that you mention. No one on the right or defending the present system has ever refuted the validity of those two points. But of course if it became well known that we could indeed have a system here that covered everyone AND cost less, well then it would threaten a lot of incomes within the system, which is why that argument is continually drowned out with irrelvant rubbish anytime that this comes up for national debate.

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