Fields of Science from Flickr/ImageEditor. Creative Commons licence.
In July two Nobel prize winners, Professor Joseph Stiglitz and Professor Sir John Sulston launched a debate on the commercialisation of science. Prof. Stiglitz is well known for his criticism of World bank and IMF policies. Prof. Sulston is firmly opposed to the privatisation of scientific information after keeping his own data on the human genome in the public domain.
Image of molecules from Wikipedia.
In an article in the New Scientist, Prof. Stiglitz outlines the current situation:
- Rich corporations have exclusive rights to their intellectual property and the profits coming from them.
- Access to affordable drugs is effectively denied to poor countries.
- This amounts to a death sentence for poor countries which cannot afford their own research programmes, and who are denied access to the knowledge base.
- Drugs are not developed for diseases which predominantly affect poor people.
Profit takes precedence over need.
He puts forward the idea of giving prizes paid for by industrialised nations, rather than patents for innovative cures and vaccines, with the largest prizes being given to those that will benefit the largest number of people. He doesn't suggest that innovation shouldn't be rewarded - it must be encouraged because it is at the heart of the success of a modern economy - but that the focus on profit at the expense of the developing world must be changed.
With modern tourism, some neglected diseases are now being imported to the developed world. According to a UCL report, there were about 10,000 cases of "imported malaria" in the 10 years up to 2006, with 1% being fatal, and this in spite of effective malaria prevention. So we may yet find that these so far neglected diseases making their way into developed nations, eventually driving further research which has been so sadly lacking so far.
By chance today I came across this ad today, for Malaria Hotspots, sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline. I wonder why?