23 January 2008

Brisbane. What state is that in?

A leading maternal-fetal medicine researcher has inexplicably ended up at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia -- a far piece from where the only possible environment for innovative research exists -- right here in the U.S.

Only our free-for-all, ignore-the-bodies-they're recyclable-anyway market economy nurtures pharmaceutical companies -- with private health insurance footing a good part of the bill and no government negotiations for pharmaceuticals. Ask Rush Limbaugh if you don't believe me.

So this news doesn't make a bit of sense. But here it is anyway: Professor Nicholas Fisk says that the current research and development and business model of the pharmaceutical industry is failing pregnant women, and describes pregnancy as a virtual "pharma-free zone." He analyzed an industry database that tracks drugs under development since 1981 and found only 17 drugs under active development for maternal health. Only one new class of drug has been licensed in the last 20 years -- and that one case did not take place in either the U.S. or Australia.

Professor Fisk's research looks at the pharmaceutical market's "push" mechanisms (funding to encourage investment from universities and companies) and "pull" mechanisms (funding to purchase drugs once they are on the market) have not been effective in the area of maternal health.

Curiouser and curiouser. Haven't we been assured that market mechanisms are what make the U.S. unique in the world? And that they are responsible for most if not all of the pharmaceutical advances of the past decades? A different way is possible?

Professor Fisk says that manufacturers avoid the need of pregnant women because said women are likely to sue them should the drug result in fetal abnormalities, because of the small market size for conditions affecting pregnant women, the limitations of a shareholder model, and a regulatory system that allows endemic off-label use of drugs in pregnancy, discouraging pharmaceutical investment in the long term.

The professor thinks that drugs for pregnant women should instead be developed under a model like the Neglected Diseases Initiative, which does not rely on profit for innovation.

Libertarians and free-market ideologues reading this should not be alarmed. Research has also shown that when we read or hear something that is dissonant with our deeply held ideological beliefs, we throw the facts out the window, not our beliefs. Such readers have already -- already! -- successfully rationalized this tidbit into support for their own beliefs.

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