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January 5, 2006
Ugly, But Effective
There are plenty of links around the blog world to the Edge.org "Dangerous Ideas" symposium, and much of it makes for good reading. But there are some clinkers. I was going to take some time to disassemble this one from biologist Paul Ewald, but that effort has already been made for me.
Put briefly, Ewald is a believer in the more extravagant reaches of the "New Germ Theory", the idea that many more diseases than we now think are actually caused by infectious agents. But he also seems to believe that even if vaccines were possible for things like cardiovacular disease that no drug company would develop them. Y'know, so we could keep selling our regular drugs instead of curing diseases. But it never seems to occur to people who advance ideas like this that such a vaccine would make an overwhelming amount of money, and that we'd be very interested in it indeed. Think about how much people are willing to pay for, say, medication to lower their cholesterol or keep their blood pressure down. Think how much people pay yearly for insulin or for asthma medication - whole companies are founded on these kinds of franchises, even with fierce competition between drugs.
Now imagine how much people would pay to never have to do that again. Quite a bit, I'd guess, since you no longer have the disease and no longer have to take any drugs for it. And here's the real kicker: the company that comes up with this wonder cure would scoop up the revenue from the entire therapeutic area, because there would be nothing that could compete. No, I think that we'd be quite intrigued.
Now, I have to say that such treatments probably aren't going to turn out to be possible in most cases. I like a lot of the New Germ Theory stuff, but I'm not sure if it can be pushed this far - although I'd love to be proven wrong about that. But the best way to make sure that they don't happen is to remove that gigantic incentive. Any company that makes a serious try at something like this will be taking a very large, very expensive risk, and if they know that there's a patent seizure waiting at the end of it they may decide that the money is better spent elsewhere. It would get done, eventually, but the fastest way - if there is a way at all - is to let profit-minded companies scramble for it.
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