Pills n’ Thrills

There’s an election for the University board going on these days, and I’m running for representative for the temporarily employed, i.e. doctoral students and post docs. As part of this, I received an e-mail from the medical students’ association about my opinions about medical research and the problem of cost for the general public, and especially the developing world. Specifically, they asked me about “universities’ role in making sure new technology, knowledge and research benefits the general public, and especially, in a global perspective, how they can ensure that the possibly commercialized work of universities is offered developing countries at a reasonable price”.

I quickly jotted down a few lines as a reply, but the topic is far too broad for that to serve justice to it. But basically, I said that publicly funded research institutions have a responsibility to ensure that the results of their research is freely available, or at least at a no-profit basis for medical products. Similarly, cheaper generic medicine should be encouraged for the developing world.

When it comes to private institutions and the pharmaceutical industry developing products for commercial purposes, I still think that cheap copy medicine should be allowed, and not prosecuted as is the current situation. Patenting of life-preserving medicine should be severely limited, and any medical research institution should be required to allocate a certain percentage of their budget on medicine that is life-preserving, to ensure that at least some of their attention is guided towards actually saving lives and not just making rich people more beautiful. I understand that medical research is costly and time-consuming, but Big Pharma makes more than enough money to prioritize a little differently. Ideally, there should exist a list of serious illnesses (e.g. HIV/AIDS) in need of more research, and any company wishing to produce a medical product for something not on the list (e.g. “anti-aging” creams) would have to allocate a certain percentage of their budgeted spending to “serious” research. Of course, I’m not saying big pharmaceuticals aren’t researching important medicine, but there is definitely a huge industry in both creating cosmetics or anti-depressants and in creating the need for them. More of that should go to alleviating actual suffering.

Whether or not it’s possible for the university sector to do anything about this is a different question. I guess the best thing they can do is commit to something like these guidelines for themselves.

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