Tuesday 17 March 2020

The Coronavirus Pandemic -- An Opportunity for the BioPharmaceutical Industry?

The Santa Cruz Sentinel (Wow!) has an excellent news article about a Gilead Sciences drug used (in combination with other treatments) to treat the coronavirus, including the attempted patent by the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the China’s Military Medicine Institute of the use of the treatment in China.  The article draws on the expertise of four professors, Ana Santos Rutschman, Lisa Larrimore Ouellette, Mark Cohen and Jacob Sherkow.  On C-Span, several experts from the World Health Organization, have been discussing the coronavirus response.  One expert noted that there are currently 200-300 clinical trials going on right now for treatments for Covid-19. 

The biopharmaceutical industry has certainly taken its lumps in the last few years.  The rising cost of healthcare, partially driven by drug pricing, has put them in the cross-hairs of the public and policy makers.  On different fronts, from drug pricing to competition to patent eligible subject matter, the biopharmaceutical industry has been fighting to protect itself and its business model.  Given the recent history of the biopharmaceutical industry, many may be worried about price gouging by the industry if a treatment is developed.  However, this could be an incredible opportunity for the biopharmaceutical industry to develop treatments and make those treatments available widely for free or a relatively low price.  This could be an opportunity to prove the value of the industry.  If a company develops a treatment, patents the treatment and then gives the treatment away, that would be an incredibly powerful choice and signal to the global public.  Private property rights, the foundation of open source licensing, allow for philanthropy involving those rights—you can choose to give it away--valuable in and of itself.  According to the experts at the WHO on C-Span, there is almost unprecedented sharing with labs around the world concerning the sequence of the genome of the virus as well as the sharing and development of tests of the virus. 

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