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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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« University of Drug Discovery? | Main | . . .And That Settles It »

November 9, 2005

Cash For Vaccines

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Posted by Derek

While the Wall Street Journal is opening its site for free this week, may I recommend this excellent article on the vaccine and antibiotic markets? It's a clear-eyed look at why drug companies haven't put more time and money into these areas over the years. The headline makes it sound as if it's going to be a pharma-bashing-festival, but the authors (Scott Hensley and Bernard Wysocki) lay out the facts, which are just as I understand them from my vantage point, too.

The second article in the series is also up here. It's an equally good overview of the possible incentives that are being discussed to encourage work in vaccines and anti-infectives. I'm glad to see the idea of incentives being discussed, because as it stands, the market isn't necessarily going to give us what we need in the time we need it. New antibiotics are generally reserved for use in resistant cases only, so you can't make your money back there. And new vaccines can end up costing too much in liability suits (many - most - of which aren't particularly well justified). But put some incentives in there, and perhaps the numbers can work out. The article goes into detail on some of the proposals - straight cash, guaranteed purchases, extra product exclusivity, and so on.

I know that some people will hear these ideas and wonder why the government doesn't just do the research itself, rather than cough up money to the drug companies. The biggest reason is that the drug companies are better at it, and faster as well. We stay on our toes competing against each other. The biggest pitfall in these incentive plans, as far as I'm concerned, is that it might end up with companies that have no one breathing down their neck. Better to have two or three organizations racing each other and throwing elbows to grab the prize, than to have someone ambling over to pick it up.

Comments (5) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Infectious Diseases


1. jim on November 10, 2005 12:28 PM writes...

Not that I'm an expert on this subject, but:
what if a company could earn patent extensions on other drugs ("lifestyle" drugs, if you like) in exchange for coming up with something useful for an underaddressed (or unaddressed) area. Seems like something along these lines could be win-win.

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2. Timothy on November 10, 2005 12:34 PM writes...

jim: I think that proposal could work. "Lifestyle" drugs like Viagra and what-not would remain higher-priced for longer, and while that would harm some people a bit, it's hard to see how getting more antibiotics, antivirals, and vaccines.

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3. Timothy on November 10, 2005 12:41 PM writes...

jim: I think that proposal could work. "Lifestyle" drugs like Viagra and what-not would remain higher-priced for longer, and while that would harm some people a bit, it's hard to see how getting more antibiotics, antivirals, and vaccines for that trade would be a bad deal.

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4. GATC on November 10, 2005 4:15 PM writes...

You guys have the right idea. The ISDA had a recent whitepaper out on this very topic and there is supposed to be a bill before congress to give patent extensions on drugs from other TAs in exchange for companies working on new antibiotics. You might also want to see my post on the subject (

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5. jim on November 11, 2005 12:59 PM writes...

You seem to know a lot about patent law, but I wonder if perhaps you aren't missing the point a little here (and please don't take that personally, I don't mean it to be offensive). I don't think we're trying to find maximum possible efficiency here. The point(I think) is to deal with world health problems that won't be touched without incentives (unless, and until, things reach even worse proportions). I do appreciate you pointing out one consequence I hadn't considered, namely the effect on generics. I think the same arguments as pertaining to Grandpa's Viagra can still be made, but the tradeoff is obviously going to be closer when this factor is considered. I'm curious what suggestions you have as an alternative. Thanks.

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