How to Not Build a Clinical Trial System
This blog is posted on behalf of Abraham Gutman, CEO of AG Mednet. We welcome comments.
About a month ago a friend sent me a link to an article entitled "Building a Better Clinical Trial System." After reading it, I had to make sure it actually appeared on The Daily Beast, and it was not from a satirical magazine like Mad or The Onion.
The article argues that governments, not companies, should be in charge of drug discovery and testing. The author bases her argument on two points. First, that pharmaceutical companies choose to withhold comparative results obtained when testing their drug against that of industry competitors. Second, that the elimination of disease is "a true public good."
Of the thousands of arguments I have against this idea, I'm unsure of which I should present in this short post. I would encourage the author to take a look at the drug development activities of the old Soviet Union, as well as present day North Korea, and analyze the real life success of her vision. It is a well-known fact that government controlled bureaucracies have hardly ever produced innovation, unless one considers the self-preservation of the bureaucracy to be an achievement.
The article tries to imply, sub rosa, that companies by their very nature, do not work for the common good, perhaps because of their need to earn a profit from their work. That of course is precisely why companies can work for the greater good. The biggest motivator for innovation is profitability, and we know that even if you work for a charity, you are the beneficiary of someone else's ability to help your organization. This help is only available if they have a surplus of capital, small as it may be, which is ultimately: profit. Implying that competing for and profiting from finding cures for disease is evil, ignores the lessons of history.
Marxism is dead for good reason. Pharmaceutical companies risk billions of dollars of their shareholders' capital searching for elusive cures, just as agricultural and manufacturing companies do in their fields. Would the author say that John Deere's research in combines does not promote the greater good? As such, should the government be in charge of building tractors?
What if a computer chip manufacturer, trying a new technology finds that it's less compelling than that of their competitor, and chooses not to publish their results? Aren't computers part of the greater good too? After all, they can be found in pacemakers, MRI scanners and other life saving devices.
Perhaps we should just nationalize Pfizer, Monsanto, and Intel. We know how well that strategy has worked for the Venezuelan people and their oil industry. There is a place for government in drug research, and it's not to compete, but rather to regulate. These regulations promote safety, and they have been found to be valuable. Not perfect, but effective. They can certainly be refined, so long as they don't remove competition.
Without competition it's only a matter of time before we begin having to import all our food from ... wait, nobody else in the world has the needed production scale of the US, which is fueled by ... markets and competition.