Tag Archives: Peter Singer

Refocusing medical research

Philosopher Peter Singer writes a newspaper editorial Tuberculosis or Hair Loss? Refocusing Medical Research:

… the diseases that cause nine-tenths of what the World Health Organization refers to as “the global burden of disease” are getting only one-tenth of the world’s medical research effort. As a result, millions of people die every year from diseases for which no new drugs are in the pipeline, while drug companies pour billions into developing cures for erectile dysfunction and baldness.

…If drug companies target diseases that affect only people who are unable to pay high prices for drugs, they cannot expect to cover their research costs, let alone make a profit. No matter how much their directors may want to focus on the diseases that kill the most people, the current system of financial incentives means that if they did so, their shareholders would remove them, or their companies would soon be out of business. That would help no one. The problem is with the system, not with the individuals who make their choices within it.

At a meeting in Oslo in August, Incentives for Global Health, a nonprofit organization directed by Aidan Hollis, professor of economics at the University of Calgary, and Thomas Pogge, professor of philosophy and international affairs at Yale, launched a radical new proposal to change the incentives under which corporations are rewarded for developing new medicines. They suggest that governments contribute to a Health Impact Fund that would pay pharmaceutical companies in proportion to the extent to which their products reduce the global burden of disease.

…Hollis and Pogge estimate that about $6 billion a year would be required to enable the Fund to provide a sufficient incentive for drug companies to register products that target the diseases of the poor. That figure would be reached if countries accounting for one-third of the global economy – say, most European nations, or the United States and one or two small affluent nations – contributed 0.03 % of their gross national income, or three cents for every $100 they earn. That’s not a trivial sum, but it isn’t out of reach, especially considering that affluent nations would also benefit from cheaper drugs and from medical research that was focused on reducing disease rather than on maximizing profits.