GlaxoSmithKline might not be evil....?

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GlaxoSmithKline might not be evil....?

Postby Dream » Fri Feb 13, 2009 10:31 pm UTC

From The Guardian

This is only pledge, and hasn't been tested in a shareholder meeting yet, but it still represents a massive shift is pharmaceutical company's attitudes. The new guy-in-charge at GSK is planning on demolishing the price of drugs in the developing world, re-investing profits from there into healthcare facilities, and
Put any chemicals or processes over which it has intellectual property rights that are relevant to finding drugs for neglected diseases into a "patent pool", so they can be explored by other researchers.
It is qualified, but significant.
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Re: GlaxoSmithKline might not be evil....?

Postby william » Fri Feb 13, 2009 10:57 pm UTC

We need to shorten the length of time a patent holds for. Right now it's 20 years, which is insane.
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Re: GlaxoSmithKline might not be evil....?

Postby Arancaytar » Sat Feb 14, 2009 1:18 am UTC

We need to shorten the length of time a patent holds for. Right now it's 20 years, which is insane.


Except that about 12-15 years of these twenty can go into the development and long-term studies of the drug before it can be marketed. Producing patent drugs is betting on the very long shot: There is an insane initial investment (hundreds of millions) that has a relatively low chance (a relative tells me one in five) of paying off billions after a decade of studies. The payout (if the drug does work out) then has to be high enough to turn a profit in the remaining years, before generic versions hit the market.

This is a risky business, and few of the companies who specialize on it are doing very well at the moment (especially now that the primary market in the US has tanked). My relative tells me we may soon see companies phasing out this type of research in favor of generics or natural compounds.

Edit: I forgot to say that said relative obviously works in the industry, which is why he's saying this stuff.
Last edited by Arancaytar on Sat Feb 14, 2009 11:09 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: GlaxoSmithKline might not be evil....?

Postby Galen » Sat Feb 14, 2009 5:55 am UTC

Yay. Now they can resurrect all the people they've maimed and we'll have a party!
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Re: GlaxoSmithKline might not be evil....?

Postby Metacelsus » Sat Feb 14, 2009 6:17 am UTC

Arancaytar speaks deep wisdom, finding new bioactive compounds is hard and getting harder in some ways since a lot of the 'low hanging fruit' from natural products have been found. This isn't to say I agree with everything they do, drug companies are starting to work out what diseases they can market their existing drugs for instead of finding drugs to suit the diseases which can end with medicalisation of things that shouldn't even be treated that way, but if they follow through on this it will only be a good thing. Tonnes of research gets done in drug companeis that the research community never gets to see (as is their right, after all they paid for it) so this is cool.

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Re: GlaxoSmithKline might not be evil....?

Postby Dream » Sat Feb 14, 2009 7:14 am UTC

In purely ethical terms, I see jealously guarding the secrets of treatment for a disease like HIV in order to profit from it as being indefensible. It is literally like watching your neighbour's family starve to death every day while you invest your millions into making more millions. There simply isn't a competing crisis to justify profit being the motivation here, because what are you researching with the profits? What is worse than the HIV epidemic? More HIV research is the obvious answer, but it is not logically sound. Letting people die of HIV in order to make enough money to combat HIV makes little sense. Hopefully this is a move towards the release of the kind of knowledge that is obviously for the good of mankind.
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Re: GlaxoSmithKline might not be evil....?

Postby Arancaytar » Sat Feb 14, 2009 11:22 pm UTC

Dream wrote:In purely ethical terms, I see jealously guarding the secrets of treatment for a disease like HIV in order to profit from it as being indefensible. It is literally like watching your neighbour's family starve to death every day while you invest your millions into making more millions.


I agree fully.

But defensible or not, it's how the business has been run so far. Even regulations can only ensure that drugs are safe; they can't force a company to abandon what is profitable for what is right.

Make no mistake, if GSK is going to level the playing field as the original article suggests, this won't be because they've had a warm fuzzy epiphany - it's just that winning the research race is getting less profitable, and a level playing field probably looks more attractive at that point.
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Re: GlaxoSmithKline might not be evil....?

Postby Metacelsus » Sat Feb 14, 2009 11:40 pm UTC

Defensible or not, discovering/creating new bioactive compounds and then getting them to the stage where they can be marketed as drugs costs a lot of money. As has already been said from the time an active compound is discovered it takes 15 years on average to get to market and the vast majority of new compounds get part way there but never make it so the company doesn't recoup any money on their investment. Phase 3 clinical trials alone require thousands of people just to ensure safety and detect any rare side effects, few people are willing to spend that much on something without expecting to at least make their money back.
If governments were willing to pour as much money into research as the drug companies are that would be another thing, then everyone would have the information but they don't so we have an imperfect alternative.

The other problem is of course there isn't very much profit in making medicines for third world nations anyway, you can make way more money curing impotence or lower back pain for old white guys. Just another reason that this sort of thing should really be the domain of government funded research where profit isn't an issue.

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Re: GlaxoSmithKline might not be evil....?

Postby Dream » Sun Feb 15, 2009 1:08 am UTC

Arancaytar wrote:Make no mistake, if GSK is going to level the playing field as the original article suggests, this won't be because they've had a warm fuzzy epiphany - it's just that winning the research race is getting less profitable, and a level playing field probably looks more attractive at that point.

Very true, I'm not expecting philanthropy. But they could still have kept their secrets, or marketed them cheaply to look better than the opposition or some such. What they are doing will save lives, and should be applauded.
Metacelsus wrote:Defensible or not, discovering/creating new bioactive compounds and then getting them to the stage where they can be marketed as drugs costs a lot of money. As has already been said from the time an active compound is discovered it takes 15 years on average to get to market and the vast majority of new compounds get part way there but never make it so the company doesn't recoup any money on their investment.

What bearing does that have on HIV victims right now? Analogy again, sorry: It's like a surgeon walking past a free clinic on the way to work every morning. Thousands of people a day die there of the ailment he specialises in. But he just keeps going to work to save tens of people in an expensive private hospital, thinking that if he takes some time off to save those lives in the clinic, he'll hamstring the economic model that is leading to the lifesaving work he does today. It's bullshit, because if the doctor is about saving lives, he should save the fucking lives. It is also bullshit because there is no zero sum for medical expenses. Charge people hat you've always been charging then in the developed world, it will keep the profits coming. Charge people half nothing in the developing world and actually do what you're supposedly needing all that profit for.
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Re: GlaxoSmithKline might not be evil....?

Postby Metacelsus » Sun Feb 15, 2009 2:14 am UTC

Dream: I'd agree with your argument if we already had a cure for AIDS. I think drug companies should heavily subsidize their anti retrovirals for developing countries and some of them do. I don't think they should give them away for free because people making them still need to eat and so on, manufacturing and everything costs money, that money can come in the form of aid from developed countries though.

In your analogy though you're acting like there is already a solution that drug companies are withholding for profit alone (this is kind of true in the case of antiretrovirals but there's no real 'cure'), that solution still needs to be developed and that takes time and money. So in your analogy it's more like someone who isn't a doctor yet walking past a free clinic and then deciding they should go study medicine become a surgeon and then come back and help.

It's not like there's someone sitting at a big desk deciding not to press the 'cure AIDS' button until someone gives them enough money, there's a lot of work that needs to be done and the people doing that work need to keep eating in the meantime. Like I said above, government funding would solve this problem but there's not enough of it at the moment so it has to be the drug companies and they want to make a profit.

Edit: I feel it's important to make clear that it's not like there are any certainties either. Drug companies could pour millions upon millions into developing HIV vaccines (and have) and not get anywhere. Drug development is a really low yield game, that's part of the reason they charge so much for the few that actually do work. Really wanting to do it isn't enough or we would have done it by now.

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Re: GlaxoSmithKline might not be evil....?

Postby Dream » Sun Feb 15, 2009 4:06 am UTC

Metacelsus wrote:I don't think they should give them away for free because people making them still need to eat and so on, manufacturing and everything costs money, that money can come in the form of aid from developed countries though.

Um, no one is making them. Not at the scale they are necessary, anyway. Perhaps I'm missing something about the international pharmaceutical industry, but it seems to me that these drugs can be made cheaply enough to treat many people in developing countries, but for some reason not all. There must be some pressure causing certain governments to ignore patents and synthesize generic copies.

Metacelsus wrote:In your analogy though you're acting like there is already a solution that drug companies are withholding for profit alone (this is kind of true in the case of antiretrovirals but there's no real 'cure'), that solution still needs to be developed and that takes time and money. So in your analogy it's more like someone who isn't a doctor yet walking past a free clinic and then deciding they should go study medicine become a surgeon and then come back and help.

There are lifesaving drugs available to treat HIV. People are dying for lack of them. The absence of a cure is no reason not to treat these people and save their lives. The crisis right now is great enough that any argument from a premise of developing further cures for HIV or any other infection is morally bankrupt. There is no greater crisis with which to justify not dealing with this one right now.
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Re: GlaxoSmithKline might not be evil....?

Postby Socal Swimmer » Sun Feb 15, 2009 4:32 am UTC

Dream wrote:In purely ethical terms, I see jealously guarding the secrets of treatment for a disease like HIV in order to profit from it as being indefensible. It is literally like watching your neighbour's family starve to death every day while you invest your millions into making more millions. There simply isn't a competing crisis to justify profit being the motivation here, because what are you researching with the profits? What is worse than the HIV epidemic? More HIV research is the obvious answer, but it is not logically sound. Letting people die of HIV in order to make enough money to combat HIV makes little sense. Hopefully this is a move towards the release of the kind of knowledge that is obviously for the good of mankind.


Yet if they dont do this, then they will go bankrupt (or nobody will fund them because the risk would be large, and payout not very large).

A necessary evil (that has been taken too far in many cases) ...
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Re: GlaxoSmithKline might not be evil....?

Postby Dream » Sun Feb 15, 2009 4:39 am UTC

Socal Swimmer wrote:Yet if they dont do this, then they will go bankrupt (or nobody will fund them because the risk would be large, and payout not very large).


Are HIV drugs in the developing world actually propping up these companies? If the handful of genuinely global crisis level treatments were offered cheaply in developing countries, or licensed there, would pharma companies actually go into receivership? I have to say, that sounds far fetched. There are any number of profitable treatments these people offer to the developed world that will keep them in the black, and as I said before, why would licensing the drugs cheaply in the developing world cost them money? These people aren't getting the treatment at all, so how could giving it to them at a knockdown price end up with the company being less profitable?
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Re: GlaxoSmithKline might not be evil....?

Postby Metacelsus » Sun Feb 15, 2009 5:58 am UTC

Dream wrote:There are lifesaving drugs available to treat HIV. People are dying for lack of them. The absence of a cure is no reason not to treat these people and save their lives. The crisis right now is great enough that any argument from a premise of developing further cures for HIV or any other infection is morally bankrupt. There is no greater crisis with which to justify not dealing with this one right now.


Sorry, I misunderstood your argument before. Like I said above, I do agree that these companies should give cheap/free licensing to manufacture their antiretrovirals in developing nations. Some of them do, some of them don't.

You're right of course that third world countries aren't propping up these companies but the corollory is also true: Developing countries don't represent a big market for these companies so there's basically no financial motivation for them to invest in things that will help developing countries. Of course there's a moral incentive to do so but if you say that then why aren't you or I using our money to do it instead? Sure the drug company would be more effective but does that make our moral obligation less? I'm not saying this is right, I'm certainly not saying I agree with it but it's the way it is. Drug companies aren't doctors or charities or anything like that, they don't have any greater obligation to help people than any other private person or organisation.

At the end of the day I also have a problem with the idea waiting for someone else to spend their time and money to solve a problem and then demand that they have a moral obligation to give it away for free. If a group of people got together and developed a cure themselves with the express purpose of making what they discover freely available that's good (and it happens, see government funded research again). If it's their intellectual property that they spent their resources to develop it should be their choice what to do with it. Were it my choice I like to think I'd give it away, but I didn't put the money and the time in so I don't get to make that decision.

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Re: GlaxoSmithKline might not be evil....?

Postby Dream » Sun Feb 15, 2009 6:42 am UTC

Metacelsus wrote:Of course there's a moral incentive to do so but if you say that then why aren't you or I using our money to do it instead? Sure the drug company would be more effective but does that make our moral obligation less? I'm not saying this is right, I'm certainly not saying I agree with it but it's the way it is


Sorry again about all the analogies, but it seems to work for this issue. If a forest fire is threatening a town, and a person from a neighbouring, so far safe town has a heavy lift helicopter and water bombing equipment, I think she has an obligation to help, even though the town in danger can't pay for that kind of defence. I think it is especially true if the people of the town in danger are out there with mops and buckets doing their ineffectual best in a very bad situation. And then of course, the town that has almost burned to the ground asks if they can rent the helicopter, and the helicopter owner says no, that the town can't afford her rates because she has to pay off the loan, and the helicopter sits idle while people die.

The helicopter owner is the ethical lynchpin here.The whole situation exists as it does because of her decisions. She has the power to change everything, and chooses not to. That places a greater moral and ethical burden on her than on non-helicopter owning bystanders. Our imperative is to help whatever way we can. If we are there for the fire, we carry water. If we are not, we give money to help rebuild. Millions of us do this, as a rule.
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Re: GlaxoSmithKline might not be evil....?

Postby Xeio » Sun Feb 15, 2009 12:32 pm UTC

Dream wrote:Sorry again about all the analogies, but it seems to work for this issue. If a forest fire is threatening a town, and a person from a neighbouring, so far safe town has a heavy lift helicopter and water bombing equipment, I think she has an obligation to help, even though the town in danger can't pay for that kind of defence. I think it is especially true if the people of the town in danger are out there with mops and buckets doing their ineffectual best in a very bad situation. And then of course, the town that has almost burned to the ground asks if they can rent the helicopter, and the helicopter owner says no, that the town can't afford her rates because she has to pay off the loan, and the helicopter sits idle while people die.

The helicopter owner is the ethical lynchpin here.The whole situation exists as it does because of her decisions. She has the power to change everything, and chooses not to. That places a greater moral and ethical burden on her than on non-helicopter owning bystanders. Our imperative is to help whatever way we can. If we are there for the fire, we carry water. If we are not, we give money to help rebuild. Millions of us do this, as a rule.
We also pay taxes, so that we pay public entities to do this (or that money is used to pay private people, such as the helicopter owner). You can call the owner evil all you want, but if they don't have money to pay for maintainance on the helicopter, then the next people who need it and can pay wont even get the option, or worse yet, if she needs it to save her own town.

Oh, and you can stretch these analogies all day, that doesn't change the fact that giving something away for free doesn't help the company producing it, and there is no guarantee they have the means to do so anyway. Sure, it's a nice goal, but money makes the world go round.
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Re: GlaxoSmithKline might not be evil....?

Postby Metacelsus » Sun Feb 15, 2009 12:35 pm UTC

I don't think we have a major disagreement here, that's what I want to think I'd do too. Just beacuse we think it's the right thing to do doesn't mean we have any right to tell someone else what to do with their IP though.

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Re: GlaxoSmithKline might not be evil....?

Postby Xeio » Sun Feb 15, 2009 12:39 pm UTC

Metacelsus wrote:I don't think we have a major disagreement here, that's what I want to think I'd do too. Just beacuse we think it's the right thing to do doesn't mean we have any right to tell someone else what to do with their IP though.
Actually, I'd argue we do. But as seen there, morality is way too complicated to just say "X is the be all, end all, correct answer".

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Re: GlaxoSmithKline might not be evil....?

Postby Galen » Sun Feb 15, 2009 2:02 pm UTC

John Rawls' Difference Principle might be helpful here.

GSK might offer even more if it looked at this like a blind game in which the execs don't know if they'll spawn as the player running a pharmaceutical company or the player with AIDS. Given the chance to determine the behavior of GSK before the game starts, they're going to make it philanthropic, in case they end up dying in Saigon instead of eating caviar in Brussels.

Really, it could have been them, or any of us, or maybe it is us or will be them if HIV starts infecting gestating whales. (Bill Gates' mosquito stunt comes to mind here... anyone up for tricking a GSK exec into thinking they have HIV?)

All that besides, I agree with those of you who have noted that GSK is a corporation which will die if it doesn't profit. No profit, no company. No company, no cure for HIV.
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Re: GlaxoSmithKline might not be evil....?

Postby william » Sun Feb 15, 2009 7:38 pm UTC

Galen wrote:Really, it could have been them, or any of us, or maybe it is us or will be them if HIV starts infecting gestating whales. (Bill Gates' mosquito stunt comes to mind here... anyone up for tricking a GSK exec into thinking they have HIV?)

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Re: GlaxoSmithKline might not be evil....?

Postby Metacelsus » Mon Feb 16, 2009 9:41 am UTC

Xeio wrote:Actually, I'd argue we do. But as seen there, morality is way too complicated to just say "X is the be all, end all, correct answer".


I was more replying to Dream, I just didn't bother putting a quote in when I saw you'd posted. In any case you are right about morality. How reasonable the internet can be.

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Re: GlaxoSmithKline might not be evil....?

Postby Galen » Mon Feb 16, 2009 9:49 am UTC

Getting knighted for running a phone company kind of takes the prestige out of Knighthood.
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Re: GlaxoSmithKline might not be evil....?

Postby Dream » Mon Feb 16, 2009 12:11 pm UTC

Metacelsus wrote:I don't think we have a major disagreement here, that's what I want to think I'd do too. Just beacuse we think it's the right thing to do doesn't mean we have any right to tell someone else what to do with their IP though.

The state will happily commandeer everything from your home to your very life if it is threatened enough to think it necessary. Compulsory purchase orders for infrastructure projects, conscription into the armed forces. For many nations, particularly in Africa, the HIV epidemic is more threatening and more lethal than any war. IP rights are not a good enough reason to oppose generic HIV drugs.
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Re: GlaxoSmithKline might not be evil....?

Postby Terebrant » Mon Feb 16, 2009 12:41 pm UTC

Dream wrote:
Metacelsus wrote:I don't think we have a major disagreement here, that's what I want to think I'd do too. Just beacuse we think it's the right thing to do doesn't mean we have any right to tell someone else what to do with their IP though.

The state will happily commandeer everything from your home to your very life if it is threatened enough to think it necessary. Compulsory purchase orders for infrastructure projects, conscription into the armed forces. For many nations, particularly in Africa, the HIV epidemic is more threatening and more lethal than any war. IP rights are not a good enough reason to oppose generic HIV drugs.

India until very recently didn't recognize amelioration patents, and I haven't followed closely what happened in Thailand but they considered using compulsory licensing for HIV drugs. There are repercussions for these actions in the current legal system but it is not impossible to accept them.

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Re: GlaxoSmithKline might not be evil....?

Postby bigglesworth » Mon Feb 16, 2009 12:48 pm UTC

Galen wrote:Getting knighted for running a phone company kind of takes the prestige out of Knighthood.


Why? The country needs well run telecommunications. You hardly expect people who wear armour and ride around on horses to get them?
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