Tuberculosis or Hair Loss? A Plan to Refocus Medical Research

Authors_photo1 Also in Project Syndicate, Peter Singer:

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.

The fund would not replace existing patent laws, but would offer an alternative to them.  Pharmaceutical companies could continue to patent and sell their products as they do now.  Alternatively, they could register a new drug with the Heath Impact Fund, which would set a low price based on the drug’s manufacturing cost.

Instead of profiting from sales at high prices, the corporation would become eligible for a share of all payments made by the fund over the next ten years. The size of the share would be calculated by assessing the contribution the drug has made to reducing death and disability.

The beauty of the scheme is that it gives economic support to the idea that all human lives are of equal value. For products that drug companies register with the Health Impact Fund, corporations would get the same reward for saving the lives of Africans living in extreme poverty as they would get for saving the lives of wealthy citizens of affluent nations. 

The most potentially lucrative targets would become the diseases that kill the most people, because that is where a breakthrough drug would have the biggest impact on global health.