Blogging About Critters Since 2007

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Why I Question Animal Testing 2.1

This is a continuation of an earlier post about why I question animal testing.

Oftentimes, scientists seem to think that they just need to waive their PhDs and research projects in everyone's faces and we should all shut up and bow our heads to their great wisdom. But universities and scientists are not always there working for pure learning or the improvement of humanity. There may be a business component there as well. Now, some people may be just fine with that, but my point is that universities and their scientists are not necessarily being motivated by pure, altruistic purposes.

I read the following in a book about the pharmaceutical industry by Marcia Angell (the first woman to serve as the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine and currently a Senior Lecturer at the Harvard Medical School) called The Truth about the Drug Companies. It is about the Bayh-Dole Act and it has really stuck with me....
{The Bayh-Dole Act} enabled universities and small businesses to patent discoveries emanating from research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the major distributor of tax dollars for medical research, and then to grant exclusive licenses to drug companies. Until then, taxpayer-financed discoveries were in the public domain, available to any company that wanted to use them. But now universities, where most NIH-sponsored work is carried out, can patent and license their discoveries, and charge royalties. Similar legislation permitted the NIH itself to enter into deals with drug companies that would directly transfer NIH discoveries to industry.

Bayh-Dole gave a tremendous boost to the nascent biotechnology industry, as well as to big pharma. Small biotech companies, many of them founded by university researchers to exploit their discoveries, proliferated rapidly. They now ring the major academic research institutions and often carry out the initial phases of drug development, hoping for lucrative deals with big drug companies that can market the new drugs. Usually when a patent held by a university or a small biotech company is eventually licensed to a big drug company, all parties cash in on the public investment in research.

.....The Reagan years and Bayh-Dole also transformed the ethos of medical schools and teaching hospitals. These nonprofit institutions started to see themselves as "partners" of industry, and they became just as enthusiastic as any entrepreneur about the opportunities to parlay their discoveries into financial gain. Faculty researchers were encouraged to obtain patents on their work (which were assigned to their universities), and they shared in the royalties. Many medical schools and teaching hospitals set up "technology transfer" offices to help in this activity and capitalize on faculty discoveries. As the entrepreneurial spirit grew during the 1990s, medical school faculty entered into other lucrative financial arrangements with drug companies, as did their parent institutions. One of the results has been a growing pro-industry bias in medical research-exactly where such bias doesn't belong. Faculty members who had earlier contented themselves with what was once referred to as a "threadbare but genteel" lifestyle began to ask themselves, in the words of my grandmother, "If you're so smart, why aren't you rich? Medical schools and teaching hospitals, for their part, put more resources into searching for commercial opportunities.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Ana,

Interesting.

I have no inherent problem with greater ties between universities and the pharmaceutical industry, or with universities generating a source of income from patents arising out of their discoveries. After all, only those treatments which are commercially viable will make it to pharmaceutical shelves and end up benefiting patients in need.

But I do take your point. Though I don't question the integrity and good-intentions of the scientific community, opinions expressed by individual scientists employed either by drug companies or by universities who benefit financially from licensing of their discoveries cannot be taken to be entirely objective.

Whilst we should listen to the opinions of those directly involved in research which uses animal testing, their word should not necessarily be taken as gospel.