Chan Park and Achal Prabhala have two op-eds today: the Hindu and the Times of India. In both, they have levelled charges of plagiarism on the committee headed by Dr. R. A. Mashelkar (ex-CEO of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research) that looked into some technical questions about our patent laws as they relate to pharmaceutical companies. Guru has a nice summary.
Park and Prabhala don't stop with charges of plagiarism; they also attack the substance of the Mashelkar committee's conclusions. While the issues are technical (about whether TRIPS, the intellectual property-related agreement that India is a signatory to, allows its member countries some flexibility in deciding what is patentable), they are also political: your position on these issues would depend on your view of pharmaceutical companies, how much of innovation is actually attributable to them, and how fair they are in dealing with poor people. There is a lot of room in the political spectrum for people to choose a spot to sit on.
My own views are informed by the article titled The Truth about Drug Companies by Marcia Angell, ex-Editor in Chief of the New England Journal of Medicine. In it, Angell also builds a compelling case that a big part of the real innovation actually happens in universities (and small start-ups spawned by them) with public funding. She also mounts a scathing attack on the Big Pharma companies, which appear to spend a lot more money on how to rig the system in their favour than on innovation through drug discovery.
And here's something from today's NYTimes on the nexus between pharma companies and doctors:
The pharmaceutical industry spends $12 billion a year marketing to doctors, and much of that money is in the form of free samples delivered to doctors’ offices, often accompanied by lunch for the entire staff. When the University of Michigan health systems banned such lunches in 2005, they calculated that the lunches had been worth $2.5 million a year.
The free drugs are samples of the newest and most expensive branded products. The drug industry hopes that by starting patients with free samples, they will remain on the more expensive medication rather than using a cheaper generic. And there is evidence that doctors who have relationships with the pharmaceutical industry prescribe more of the expensive drugs.