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Biotech Technology

Antibiotic Resistant Staph Antibiotic Discovered 493

Posted by chrisd
from the bugs-killing-human-killing-bugs dept.
edward.virtually@pob writes "CNN is reporting that a team of scientists has discovered an extremely effective killer of the antibiotic resistant form of staph infection occuring naturally in rock pools. Unfortunately, despite the obvious cheap potential availability of this cure, do not expect it to be cheaply available. The employer of the scientists, AquaPharm Bio-Discovery Limited, the story notes 'is keeping the identity of its MRSA-killing bacteria a closely guarded secret, and taken out patents on how they can be cultivated and used.' Oh well."
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Antibiotic Resistant Staph Antibiotic Discovered

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  • by Snaller (147050) on Friday February 28, 2003 @08:41AM (#5405182) Journal
    ...is to make make of of the sick.

    Other excellent ways are weapons of mass destruction and reality shows.
    • by Pxtl (151020) on Friday February 28, 2003 @12:08PM (#5407003) Homepage
      Oddly enough, I think the big problem here is not the drug company, it's the doctors. Antibiotic resistance is their fault. Go to any small-town non-prestegious hospital and you'll see doctors prescribing multiple high-power antibiotics for non-critical applications. These anti-biotics are powerful _because_ they are rare - by overusing them rather then getting the last use out of the simpler antibiotics, they doom the world to diseases resistant to even the strongest antibiotics.

      Larger, more prestigious hospitals have to keep in much closer touch with research (often being research-oriented themselves) and tend to be more aware of the problems of antibiotic abuse.

      Complex, rare antibiotics like this should not be needed - at least not yet.
      • Maybe you could also consider how difficult it is for a doctor NOT te prescribe antibiotics? Some patients almost force you to do so, otherwise they just go to the doctor next door who will give them what they want...
      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 28, 2003 @01:31PM (#5407734)
        Bull$hit, I say!
        If you'd do your research, as opposed to the kneejerk disgust with doctors many Americans have developed, the predominant cause of antibiotic resistance is: LIVESTOCK!

        WHAT?!?

        Yes, A MAJOR cause of antibiotic resistance is the highly common practice of farmers mixing antibiotics with their feed. A steady dose of antibiotics helps the animals spare some energy for getting fat and happy, instead of fighting off common infections, which means more meat for the farmers to sell. A hell of a lot more antibiotics get used by dairy cattle than by snot-nosed five-year-olds, exposing a lot more bugs to antibiotics than they ever could. As a mater of fact, vancomycin, one of the last, great "superantibiotics," capable of taking out MRSA, (sometimes called a "flesh-eating" bacteria) is gonna be undermined soon, because one of the "feed supplements" being used is very similar in structure and function to Vanco.

        Many doctors are trying hard to conserve the "big gun" antibiotics, which are HELLA expensive, for when they're actually needed, but that's occuring more and more. Plus, the fact that patients often demand an antibiotic when they've got a cold (which is a virus, and doesn't get TOUCHED by even the best antibiotic), and you've got a tragedy in the making.

        Not flaming, not trolling, just one Medical Student's experience.
      • Drug Resistance (Score:4, Interesting)

        by silentbozo (542534) on Friday February 28, 2003 @02:26PM (#5408312) Journal
        Consider how important it is to keep antibiotics in reserve. Previously, Cipro was the last line of defense - and it was used up during the anthrax scare. There's plenty of Cipro to go around, but the usefulness has dropped significantly since the appearance of bacteria resistant to Cipro have appeared.

        For those of you who don't remember biology, bacteria resistance is particularly nasty because unrelated kinds of bacteria can actually swap genes for traits (including resistance.) Thus, you could take an incomplete course of antibiotics, and end up with drug-resistant e-coli in your gut (which are harmless.) Then, you catch a nastier infection (say, a bacterial pneumonia), the nasty bacterium manages to swap genes with your drug-resistant e-coli, and WHAM, you've got a deadly infection that is resistant to all available drugs. Hospitals are particularly deadly because they tend to treat the sickest patients with the most advanced drugs... and as a result many drug resistant strains LIVE IN HOSPITALS! (Yes, this is a true fact - disinfection is a serious bitch with certain strains of bacteria...)

        The longer they keep this new stuff away from the general public, the better it will be in the event we REALLY need it.
    • AWESOME! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by xeeno (313431)
      Now we can overprescribe yet another antibiotic and thus churn out zillions of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
      God, I *really* hope this is used only as a last ditch effort and is used correctly. It makes me ill when a doctor offers me an antibiotic for a viral infection.

  • Patenting.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sporty (27564) on Friday February 28, 2003 @08:42AM (#5405187) Homepage
    I see nothing wrong with pantenting the process so long as the patent isn't abused.

    Remember claritin before the FDA deemed it fine to go over the counter? It was stupifying the price drop.

    I hope these people don't find the cure for AIDS. That would be one that would be ethically/morally wrong to abuse.
    • Re:Patenting.. (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Why single out AIDS? Are you saying that someone abusing a cure for Ebola would be just fine? ANY abuse of medical patents should be morally and ethically wrong. Just because it happens to be AIDS doesn't mean it should be treated any differently than if it were a cure for a cold sore.
      • Re:Patenting.. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ducman (107063) <slashdot&reality-based,com> on Friday February 28, 2003 @09:45AM (#5405690)
        Let's see. Somebody had a disease. They had no way to cure it themselves. You did not give them the disease, but you do have a way to cure it. Why is it immoral for you to ask them to pay you for it?

        Oh, you're saying it's immoral for you to try to prevent someone else from stealing your method to cure the disease and giving it to the sick person for free.

        So why would you spend any time and effort to find that cure in the first place?
    • Re:Patenting.. (Score:2, Insightful)

      by elrolas (648079)
      Why would abusing a patent for a cure to MRSA be less ethical than abusing one for AIDS ? Merely because it affects less people ?

      When it comes to human life no abuse of patents should be allowed. Everyone should have a chance for a cure.
    • Re:Patenting.. (Score:4, Informative)

      by budgenator (254554) on Friday February 28, 2003 @09:13AM (#5405393) Journal
      from the story. AquaPharm is keeping the identity of its MRSA-killing bacteria a closely guarded secret, and taken out patents on how they can be cultivated and used.

      1 they are not patenting the bacteria, its identity is secret. therefore guess the bacteria and its yours legaly, steal the secret its not yours.

      2 patents taken out cultivation, just use a different cultivation technic no problem.

      3 patent taken out on use, probably no way around that one depending on for broad or narrow the patent is.

      Aids has a cure it's death, that means AIDS is presently terminal. AIDS is also causative of death. Cold Sore are also terminal, but usualy doesn't cause death unless you have Aids also.

      There are quite a few diseases that cause death more grusome than aids like Hepititis B, ever wonder why a Hepititus B vacination costs so much?
    • Re:Patenting.. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by llamalicious (448215)
      That would be one that would be ethically/morally wrong to abuse.

      What the fuck, just because it's highly visible and currently kills 100% of it's victims, just that *one* would be wrong to abuse?

      Pardon my soapbox, but I find any abuse of patents by pharmaceuticals to price fix or price jack the cost of their life-saving prescription medications to be completely and utterly offensive.

      In a few years, I'm sure more and more antibiotic resistant strains of bacterium are going to start popping up, with dire consequences for people in hospitals. I, for one, would not want someone in my family going under the knife, perhaps contracting a resistant staph infection and dying because of some bio-pharm's goddamned patent.

      Sure, they have every right to recompense for their research dollars, salaries, etc... but you know, as do I, that the patents will be used as a thin veil over corporate greed.

      IMO. YMMV.
    • Re:Patenting.. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by nahdude812 (88157) on Friday February 28, 2003 @09:50AM (#5405741) Homepage
      One of the major misconceptions about pharmaceuticals is that "To make this pill costs about $0.12, why are they $15 each?" The problem is that this stuff requires years of research.

      This stuff isn't like coming up with an idea in computer technology where it mostly requires a lightbulb to appear over your head for a really good product to be invented, you see, in medical research, it's not about being able to come up with good ideas, those are easy, such as "AIDS cure" and "Cancer cure," it's trying mostly random things, fueled by only minor insight, and many years of trial and error to come upon something truly useful.

      I'm not sure what the regulatory process is behind something like a bacterial antibody is, but if it's anything like drug research, once it's discovered, you're looking at another 10+ years of preclinical and clinical trials. Literally billions of dollars must be invested before joe consumer can use it. And that's for a successful run. There are drugs that make it to the end of 10 year trials, and fail, with billions going down the drain.

      *THIS* is what you pay for, not the manufacturing cost.
      • Re:Patenting.. (Score:3, Informative)

        by mfrank (649656)
        You *do* know that the pharmaceutical companies spend more on marketing that they do on research? *THAT* is what you're paying for.
        • Re:Patenting.. (Score:3, Informative)

          by nahdude812 (88157)
          I'd sincerely like to know what your source for this is, and what you classify as a cost of research, and what you classify as a cost of marketing. I've worked in pharmaceuticals for years in many different areas, from a janitor right out of high school, to accounting, to marketing, and now I work for a marketing firm that specializes in pharmaceuticals. My mom and both of my brothers have worked in pharmaceuticals for many more cumulative years than me, in numerous areas of research.

          Let me tell you what I observe being the case, and what I suspect is the basis of your claim.

          Pharmaceutical A spends $X billion on marketing. This covers TV and print ads, direct marketing materials, product literature, product packaging, etc. For the things that are done in-house by employees, we only collect information on the costs of the tangible things, and ignore wage costs. For things that are outsourced (there's *lots* of this), we look only at the final pricetag. For a successfully run national campaign, we may be talking about $3-4 million dollars. This would, of course, include the salaries of the people working for the outsourced company, as their salaries are part of the pricetag. In marketing at a pharmaceutical, usually many more man hours go in from outside companies than inside companies. It's easy to inflate the pricetag like this (which perhaps you should as their salaries are being marked up for profit). The staff of marketing individuals at the pharmaceutical are paid a range of $50,000 to $150,000 for the execs. On average though, they probably make $60-70,000.

          When it comes to research, statistics are collected regarding, again, all of the tangibles, which are things like cages for animals, food for animals, wholesale chemicals to make drugs and test compounds, etc. This figure may only make it to several million dollars, perhaps a billion for a research intensive company.

          What isn't considered is the salaries of the individuals running that research. This is *not* outsourced ever, aside from consultants, but money to pay consultants comes from the same place as the money to pay employees, and so isn't probably wrapped up in the final figures. Consultants in the research area maybe make up 25% of the total research employee base, and usually in the lower down jobs.

          The non-technical jobs here go for $40-50,000, and the technical jobs here start at $70,000 and run well in to half a million dollars for ONE person. Yes, that's right, pathologists (who is to a doctor what a doctor is to a highschool dropout, usually requiring 16-20 years of education) frequently make more than some very big wigs on the corporate side. Then there are bonuses *required* to be paid to the managing pathologist for a drug. This is the guy or girl who in the end reviews all the available data and puts his or her signature on the final research report and says "This is safe for human use, and all these data are accurate." That comes at a very high risk, there is no real way this person can verify that numbers weren't fudged, and if something goes wrong with the drug after it hits clinical, *they* are very liable to be sued for many millions of dollars.

          The mean salary of technical persons in a research division is probably close to $100,000; there are many doctors involved in this process.

          The payroll for a moderate research division of a medium to medium-large pharmaceutical is probably on the order $12-15 billion dollars. I very much doubt that many pharmaceuticals are spending as much on marketing, including salaries, than they are spending on only salaries of personnel in research.

          Plus, have you considered the cost of insurance when a drug goes clinical? Insurance premiums for pharmaceuticals tend to be on the order of several billion dollars a year.

          Again, I'd truly like to see your source, and to verify their data on my own.
    • by overunderunderdone (521462) on Friday February 28, 2003 @10:04AM (#5405869)
      Remember claritin before the FDA deemed it fine to go over the counter? It was stupifying the price drop.

      I have to say I'm mostly (but not entirely) on the Pharmecuticals side on this issue. You are forgetting a few things
      1) the manufacturing of these drugs *once you know how* is generally pretty cheap & easy to do.
      2) Discovering these drugs in the first place is the product of some very serious, long-term, hard and *expensive* science.
      3) Often finding a way to turn a discovery like this into a drug that is fit for human consumption is perhaps even more difficult and *expensive* - Penicillin was discovered in 1929 but it wasn't until 1945 that someone figured out how to use it as a drug. It usually takes several years of *very expensive* research before they figure out how to use a discovery like this as a drug.
      4) Once they have a drug it takes several years of difficult and *very expensive* trials to prove it's effectiveness & safety to the FDA
      5) Not all of their expensive initial research, & expensive development of drugs end up being anything.
      6) The whole time they've been doing this their patent has been active and ticking down, they have a few years left in their patent to make back their enormous investment. (though they *may/may not* be able to get a patent extension that compensates them for the time it takes to get FDA approval. So, they may get at best 17 years to get a return on their investment or if they fail to get an extension they may have only a couple of years.
      7) They are making drugs there is a *huge* risk even after years of *expensive* research and getting FDA approval that a drug may do nasty things to the user over the long term or to a tiny fraction of the population - the result could be lawsuits that costs BILLIONS. It is important to note that this harm doesn't have to be proven scientifically it has to be "proven" in a court of law - One scientist with a pet theory as an expert witness and a handful (out of millions) that have some unexplained syndrome and all the profits from all the drugs produced by hundreds of scientists over dozens of years may end up in the pockets of a few dozen lawyers that "worked" for at most four or five years to "earn" it.

      The response to all this is that Pharmecutical companies are *very* profitable - true but they are engaged in a fairly risky investment as a matter of economics high risk has to be balanced with high rewards, otherwise the investment goes elsewhere. If they operated without any profit at all the drugs would be roughly 8-25% less (looking at last years profits vs. revenues) but that obviously woudn't take into account any risks or explain why anyone would bother to undertake the years of research outside of pure altruism - a fine sentiment but not that great as a motivator.

      The other response is "if it's a life saving drug it's morally wrong to profit from it". My response to those folks is to ask them if they are willing to make such huge investments themselves without profiting from them. Would YOU be willing to go to school, get an advanced chemistry degree, spend decades of research into the slime floating around rock pools and NOT GET PAID for it.
  • by Christopher Bibbs (14) on Friday February 28, 2003 @08:42AM (#5405190) Homepage Journal
    Why would anyone expect that a company would spend all the time and resources to discover a new cure, only to release it to the public? If they weren't going to try and make money from the effort, they would probably never have attempted it in the first place.

    To quote Cartman, "Damn hippies."
    • They should make money, yet, they should make themselves a living, not a luxery. In fact, I believe that anyone working in the pharma/biochem/medical field should have this _basic_ principle lie in their head.

      And no, I am no communist. But I do think being humane is the 1st rule in the capitalist world. If not, I think our world's near its death of humanity.
      • by TopShelf (92521) on Friday February 28, 2003 @09:46AM (#5405698) Homepage Journal
        And who's to decide the difference between a living and a luxury? And for whom, between the researchers, the assistants, the support staff, the investors who provided the means to undertake the endeavor, etc.? That's what we have a market for, so society as a whole can make those judgements through everyday transactions. The incredible pace of medical research these days is, in large part, a function of the neverending demand (expressed through a willingness to pay just about any price for better and newer medicines) that provides financial incentives for continued investment. Plain and simple - they're meeting a demand, and are getting rewarded for it. Good for them!
    • This isn't some cure that they genetically engineered, spending billions of dollars to splice DNA into an organism. It was literally 'found' in a rock pool. They stumbled across it. That should not give them exclusive rights for 20-30 years (including sneaky tie-in patents after the original patent has expired) to sell this potentially life-saving cure at inflated prices to the world. Rather, this find ought to be shared with researchers who may find additional ways to apply it to other illnesses and bacteria-fighting medicines.
      • It was literally 'found' in a rock pool.

        Yeah, the way that they just happened to have the team of scientists playing team building games with sandcastles nearby when that MRSA infected hobo with the rotting leg tripped into the rock-pool and then leaped out cured - hell! What a stroke of luck!

        Just think, the company might have had to spend millions on computers and lab equipment if that hadn't happened.

        Sorry, just had lunch and my brain is stuck on 'sarcastic'.

      • by bunratty (545641) on Friday February 28, 2003 @09:08AM (#5405365)
        You obviously have no idea how much money it takes to conduct studies that prove the drug safe and effective. This needs to be done before the FDA and other drug agencies approve the drug for use. It can take millions of dollars to conduct just one study, and usually multiple studies are needed to test the safety in kidney patients, the elderly, and the young. If drug companies couldn't make billions of dollars a year for about a decade from "blockbuster" drugs like this, there wouldn't be any drug companies at all, and thus no new drugs.
      • That's why the patent applications won't cover the organism itself. They'll cover methods for producing the organism on a large scale (no small challegene for some bacteria) and methods of use to cure MRSA infections. None of these things were 'found in a rock pool'; they're exactly what patents are intended to protect and promote. More power to them, you'd be thankful if your leg were being eaten alive by MRSA.

        Repeat after me: The concept of IP isn't bad, abuse of the USPTO is the problem.
        -j
        • by haystor (102186) on Friday February 28, 2003 @09:30AM (#5405516)
          "Found" in a rock pool isn't exactly how it all came about either. They have probably looked thousands of places cataloging millions of strains of bacteria. Its not like they wandered up to a pool and the damn thing had a sign on it.

          If its so "obvious" that it should be common knowledge just because it was found in a pool, how come it wasn't stumbled upon before? The fact that it has been found now is good indication that drug companies have been encouraged to look for such things.

          I do think it would be an interesting economic model though to put a bounty on certain types of drugs, say $2 billion for a antibiotic-resistant staph antibiotic. When funded by the whole world, numbers like $10billion for major drugs wouldn't be that high. Insurance companies would likely offer bounties as well.
      • by nomadicGeek (453231) on Friday February 28, 2003 @09:48AM (#5405723)
        It was literally 'found' in a rock pool. They stumbled across it.

        I guess having a bunch of scientists on the payroll travelling around the world searching, testing, developing methods to mass produce it, doing clinical trials, seeking FDA approval, etc. is practically free.

        Hell, they probably found it in the first rock pool that they looked in.

        Sounds like maybe I should get into this easy low risk business. Sounds like an easy way to make the big bucks.

        All kidding aside, somebody has to front the money for this research and it is very expensive and very risky. It is not uncommon to spend 10's of millions of dollars and never see a dime in return. When they do find something, they have to make enough profit off of it to make up for money they lost on all of the things that didn't work out. They also have to be able to invest in the research to find more products.
    • To quote Cartman, "Damn hippies."

      In South Park Cartman represents, among other things, the ignorance of the American public, so I wouldn't go looking for help from Matt Stone or Trey Parker while you're trying to justify greed and selfishness.
    • by IamTheRealMike (537420) <mike@plan99.net> on Friday February 28, 2003 @08:53AM (#5405268) Homepage
      Why would anyone expect that a company would spend all the time and resources to discover a new cure, only to release it to the public? If they weren't going to try and make money from the effort, they would probably never have attempted it in the first place.

      That's not an argument for being able to artificially restrict supply of a potentially life saving drug, that's an argument for rethinking how R&D is performed in our economy.

      Realistically, if people are dying because our brand of capitalism requires artificial scarcity in order to get research done, then we need to change our economic system sharpish, not just write it off as "oh well, life isn't fair".

      • I regard most forms of "intellectual property" as an artificial government construct superimposed onto pure capitalism. Here's a great case where good old laissez-faire capitalism would work better.

        • Here's a great case where good old laissez-faire capitalism would work better.

          OK, but how would it work? A company develops a drug, and every other drug company reverse engineers it for 1/1000 of the cost of the R&D, and the first company can't compete. They go out of business. All other companies in the industry see this, and so they all sit on their hands waiting for the other guy to develop a drug so they can copy it? That doesn't sound too good to me. If I got some kind of disease, I'll happily fork over the cash to get it fixed. *Happily*
    • Why would anyone expect that a company would spend all the time and resources to discover a new cure

      The optimal word here is discover, not create. There are restrictions, in some countries, on patenting something which occurs in nature or a natural process.

      e.g. I find an algae growing in a particular pond which clears up a skin rash. I take this algae to my lab, and perform some study on how it reacts with the affliction and whether it has any really bad side effects (like the rash is actually my immune system fighting some fungus, the algae has a narcotic affect on the immune cells and the fungus left free starts to eat my skin cells) If it all turns out great, I apply for patents for such clever things as:

      Process: Place algae in water, under light, feed certain organic solutions, remove algae, dry, mix with mineral oil as a salve, bottle, good for 6 months.

      Patents barring encroachment of genetic engineering other, similar algae to produce the same effect.

    • This scenario is exactly why capitalism complete fails to serve the good of the public in the area of medicine. Curing diseases is hardly ever as profitable as treating them indefinitely. I'm sorry, but who the fuck cares about money when people's lives are on the line? And what, only the rich that can afford the treatments deserve to survive?

      Do I know of a solution? Not exactly. But look at the Open Source and Free Software movements as examples. Here are a bunch of people writing extremely good code because they love doing it. They get a kick out of doing something that benefits others. This is the kind of ethos we need to see in the medical industry. People who want to benefit the world doing so for that purpose. I realize there are a lot of people in the field that do just that--unfortunately many of them work for people who don't share their sentiments.

      • by Rich0 (548339) on Friday February 28, 2003 @09:51AM (#5405748) Homepage
        This is the kind of ethos we need to see in the medical industry. People who want to benefit the world doing so for that purpose. I realize there are a lot of people in the field that do just that--unfortunately many of them work for people who don't share their sentiments.

        Keep in mind that I can develop C code using my $400 PC running linux and gcc. The folks who developed gcc probably had to use $200 PCs and a $1000 compiler package. Still, it is a one time expense, after that you are just donating your time.

        Analyzing soil samples for antibiotic compounds requires a lab outfitted with safety features (so you don't burn down your house or breath in cancer-causing fumes), equipment (like a $50,000 HPLC or GC-MS), reagents (culture media, chemicals, etc), disposal costs (I hope you don't plan on dumping said chemicals down the drain), etc. The cost of operating a lab is quite substantial - even in academia where worker safety isn't as big a priority. To run a lab you have to have money. If you have money, that also means that at any given time somebody is trying to sue you. (There would be suits against every open source developer out there whose code crashed and caused a lost day's work - but most of these developers don't have substantial assets to go after (compared to a corporation).)

        In short, developing drugs isn't something you do in your garage...

        Then we get to testing. At first you have a compound that kills Staph in a tube while presumably not killing human cells in a tube. But then again, VX probably doesn't kill human cells in a tube either (it kills nerves, and cultured cells don't have those). Now you need to shoot this stuff into a person and see what happens. Anyone want to sign up for beta-testing the latest open-source injection?

        I'm all for charity-based research to benefit the general public, but a big part of the reason that drugs are expensive is because they aren't cheap to discover.

        Free software works because the main cost in software development is the programmer's time. In free software this is typically donated. If profit is sought it is in services.

        For drugs, there are other substantial costs involved (though the developer's time is still a big one). Just donating time doesn't get you much. The services side of things is already cornered by doctors, who have much different qualifications than the guys in the lab developing the product.
  • by DrJonesAC2 (652108)
    ..that big Corporations were looking out for my best interest! You mean that they are only in it for the $$$ ?!?!?
  • "Oh Well"? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by InterruptDescriptorT (531083) on Friday February 28, 2003 @08:42AM (#5405197) Homepage
    Oh well?

    What a blas thing to say about a flawed and greed-sustaining patent process that could potentially keep something that could save millions of lives worldwide locked up for access to the rich and powerful only.

    If you heard such a thing about a composite material that could strengthen the wings of aircraft or some new safety device that could reduce automobile accident fatalities by 35%, would you say 'Oh well' to that too?
    • by RobertNotBob (597987) on Friday February 28, 2003 @09:12AM (#5405386)
      If you heard such a thing about a composite material that could strengthen the wings of aircraft or some new safety device that could reduce automobile accident fatalities by 35%, would you say 'Oh well' to that too?

      NEWS FLASH dude,

      Composite materials and automotive safety features ARE patented. Have you ever heard of KEVLAR, Air Bags, or Intermitant windshield wipers? All are patented and fit exactly into the catagory that you are whining about. None of them were cheap when they came out (Kevlar still isn't) but the money made by the people who struggled for years to develop them made up for their years of strugle.

      Now, those things are available. They would not have been available without the years of development that was done in the hopes of turning a profit. Soon (if the hype is true) this new drug will be available; At first to those who can afford to pay a premium, then to the masses once the ecomonies of scale are realized in its manufacture. Just like with airplane wings and car safety devices!

  • by ketamine-bp (586203) <calvin@nOspaM.k.eta.mine.nu> on Friday February 28, 2003 @08:43AM (#5405198)
    YES, i do think they should be awarded by the world's population by making such breakthrough. YET, If they are trying to make it so difficult to get that drug, at least, for those in the 3rd world, I believe they should really be banished before any award.

    (YES, I have RTFA.)
    • YES, i do think they should be awarded by the world's population by making such breakthrough. YET, If they are trying to make it so difficult to get that drug, at least, for those in the 3rd world, I believe they should really be banished before any award.

      Well, how do you define the 3rd world? Is there some magic line you cross where if you're below it you get medicine cheap, and when you cross it it's suddenly expensive? That'd be a pretty good incentive to not develop.

      The whole thing really hinges on the word "reward". The problem is that currently the way we reward such discoveries is massively unjust - by allowing the margins to be kept artifically high, the poorest are denied access to what could potentially save their lives.

      Really, it's time the world recognised that the patent system is what would be known to programmers as an enormous, fragile hack. It hacks around fundamental flaws in the architecture of our society, and like most hacks, it's messy, inefficient and is FUBARd by subtle edge-cases.

      Unfortunately, nobody (including me) knows quite how we should re-architect things to work better. Even if we did, nobody knows how you'd actually implement it.

  • Well, duh! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Xugumad (39311) on Friday February 28, 2003 @08:44AM (#5405203)
    Of course they're keeping it a closely guarded secret. It may be simple enough to manufacture, but consider how much money they have to make back, that was spent on research! There's no mention of how much that research cost in the story, but I'd guess it was at least in the millions (including cost of equipment used).
    • The average drug runs up $700 million in R & D costs. This also accounts for the potentially decades of man-hours invested in dead-end trails before they strike gold on a working cure for something.

      A poster earlier said "they just found it in a rock pool; why should they profit?"

      If you're so damn smart and it were so obvious to look at the rock pools, why didn't you?

      Oh, that's right. Because its NOT SO OBVIOUS!

    • True, but instead of governments given patent rights for such discoverys, governments could give
      in immediate cash prize for openning making the
      discovery available to everyone.

      • Re:Well, duh! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jdiggans (61449)
        Nice in theory but the money would come from ... where?

        The U.S. is already $300+ billion in the red this year; I doubt we could walk around slinging $700M+ to every drug company that had a nice idea this year. Recouping costs from private markets is a great solution to the problem of driving discovery.
        -j
        • by marm (144733)

          I doubt we could walk around slinging $700M+ to every drug company that had a nice idea this year.

          In countries with comprehensive free healthcare, the national health services already spend far far more on drugs than this, and much of that expense goes into paying for a relatively few number of patients who require recent, still patented (and thus expensive) drugs.

          Here's how it could work: a group of health services, e.g. all those within the EU, promises to reimburse a research group for their drug development costs in return for them getting their hands on new drugs at generic prices. The cost is spread out over several health services, and the total yearly drugs bill goes down, because they only have to provide capital to develop the drug once, and then they get it at generic prices, rather than paying through the nose for the drug for 20 years or so.

          It's rather like developing operating systems - it's cheaper to club together with some other companies to develop a single OS that you can then use freely than it is to keep paying out year after year after year to some other company. Witness the corporate adoption of Linux by IBM, HP and so on. It just makes sense financially.

          Fewer people die as result, because the health services can afford more and better drugs. More useful drugs are developed, because they aren't developed solely with the aim of making a profit on the drugs (look at all the stomach-acid suppression drugs like Zantac and Tagamet for examples of drugs that are designed to create a cashflow rather than cure the underlying problem). Developing countries are more likely to be able to get their hands on life-saving drugs at sane prices.

          Cut out the middleman. Let the users of the drugs (the health services) develop the drugs according to their needs and then use them freely.

          If you're worried that this sounds like socialism (a dirty word in the US for some peculiar reason), then replace 'health services' with 'healthcare companies'. Is it still socialism if healthcare companies do it to improve their bottom line, and yet still improve their service to their patients?

          This does assume that health services/companies can develop drugs for similar costs to drug companies. Still, without having to spend enormous quantities on marketing, free pens, paper and holidays to doctors and shareholder dividends, it might just be possible.

  • Or Nessie's $H!+...
  • Group of people discover something new, want to sell it, news at 11.

  • So the company that discovered it wants to profit from their discovery. Big deal. If this were a disease that was epidimic, this would be a problem, and the government might just aquire the antibiodic from them. But this disease is so rare it doesn't matter that much. How many people do you know with resistant staph?
    • Not many ... yet! The problem is, as antibiotics proliferate & are used without discretion (e.g, administered 'sub-therapeutically' to food animals in their feed), antibiotic-resistant strains of microbes become more common.

      One of the major risks of going to hospital these days is in picking up a secondary infection. The last thing you need after surgery is a dose of resistant staph and - yes - this does happen. Unfortunately, it's becoming more and more common ....

      Don't think so?? [google.com]

  • About these pharmaceutical companies that are more
    than willing to sell off their discoveries to the
    highest bidder instead of doing what's right for
    humanity. I mean, for christ sakes. How vampirical
    is it to put profit about human lives? I think
    Chris Rock said something to the effect that we
    haven't cured a disease in 50 some odd years, but
    we used to do it twice a week. It's really sad.
    • And who's going to pay for all of these wonderful, magical humanity-saving discoveries? The tooth fairy?
      • You know full well I wasn't suggesting they just
        GIVE them away. But for christ sakes, you have to
        agree that the money is in treating the disease,
        not curing it. They know that, we know that, and you
        have to know that. The current business model
        involves sucking every last dollar out of a new
        wonder medicine and inflating the cost no matter
        how many people die because they can't pony up
        the sheckles.
    • Ah yes ... internationally renowned pharmacologist Chris Rock. I just read his article in Nature.
    • I think Chris Rock said something to the effect that we haven't cured a disease in 50 some odd years

      I find him funny, too, but never quote Chris Rock as the authority on morbidity and mortality [cdc.gov]. It makes one look silly. :)

      we used to do it twice a week. It's really sad.

      I have no idea where that statistic might've come from but, for argument's sake, let's say it's true. Couldn't it be that we solved all the easy ones first and that those that remain are friggin difficult?

      If Pfizer could cure you of something tomorrow, it would, because you'd give them a big chunk of dough for the cure. True, it's a better economic model to 'treat' you over time than it is to cure but do you really think the scientific community would accept a pharma company knowingly doing this when a cure was available and locked up under patent?
      -j
    • At present, we have 3 types of medicine: we have treatments, we have vaccines, and we have antibiotics. Discovering antibiotics cured bacteria-related diseases all in one fell swoop (okay, some refinement had to be done, but it was a giant breakthrough, not some "two diseases a week for 20 years" nonsense). Treatments don't cure anything, they merely repress symptoms. Sometimes a treatment is so effective that it is tantamount to a cure, but they're still not the same. Vaccines don't cure anything either, they just help to prevent you from contracting something. Furthermore, vaccines for deadly diseases ususually have a mortality rate associated with them. It's often small, a mere fraction of a percentage point, but there's a price nevertheless.

      Even if one accepts the argument that the pace of medical progress has slowed, that's not necessarily an argument against capitalism. Maybe the initial discoveries were easier? We've been working on cancer for most of this century, but most of the progress has been made recently, not back in the early days (when you believe things were done right). In fact, as the price of research becomes higher, it becomes all the more important that the medical companies have a way to make back their investment.

      R&D is not free. Even if the government paid for it, people would still have to bear the cost. Instead of people who actually require the medicine having to pay, the entire taxpaying population would pay. It's up to you to decide which is more fair. Of course, another big downside of government sponsored R&D is that it would be politicized. Imagine all the fun if our elected officials had/got to decide which diseases were the important ones. We'd probably spend all our money on Alzheimer's, as the baby boomers get older.

      In short, Chris Rock is full of shit.

  • Be good, MRSA (Score:2, Informative)

    Let's just hope that MRSA doesn't infringe on the patent by becoming resistant to this one too :-)

    There is in fact a perfectly good MRSA killer out there already - bleach. Not much use once you are infected, but an ounce of prevention, etc. Here in the UK we need the government to get hospitals to focus more on basic hygiene, rather then forcing them to hire more managers to figure out ways of fiddling the figures to meet the latest (meaningless) government target.

    At least the government here have set themselves a goal of a 6% reduction in the number of targets set per year...

  • I only had to read the headline 3 times before I understood it :-)

  • Many resistant forms of bacteria have evolved due to overuse of antibiotica. If the process itself is closely regulated we can at least hope that the drug itself will be closely regulated as well. That way it will hopefully be used when it is really needed, and only when it is really needed, thus reducing the risks of resistant bacteria evolving.
  • They'll be preventivley prescribing this stuff in bucketloads to soccer kids before you know it. I predict that staph becomes resistant to this before the patent expires - possibly before it's available in Canada and Mexico.

    That brings up a terrifying prospect. The drug company will actually have financial incentive for the bacteria to become resistant again just as the patent runs out. Should be easy enough to accomplish with free samples and advertising. Ghastly.

  • The reason they are keeping this Bacteria secret has nothing to do with high prices a rofits..

    Our current antibiotic empidemic was caused by over prescribing anitbiotics through the last 50 years..

    If too much of thi sbacteria is used its targeted bacteria will evolve a counter measure that is fqar worse and that we do not have a cure for!!

  • by ackthpt (218170) on Friday February 28, 2003 @08:51AM (#5405258) Homepage Journal
    AquaPharm Bio-Discovery Limited, the story notes 'is keeping the identity of its MRSA-killing bacteria a closely guarded secret, and taken out patents on how they can be cultivated and used.' Oh well."

    With all the complaining about how the USPTO awards this or that patent for the obvious things, it's this patenting of medicinces which I find the most anti-social. It's like, "I'm going to discover something which may save lives, but I want the ability to restrict, for profit, how it gets used." Makes me feel my healthcare premiums aren't so much an insurance policy as a licensing fee. While I feel people do need compensation for their efforts, I feel any kind of patent awarded on medicines or medical treatments should have a much limited scope. I.e. any pharmacutical should be allowed to produce the medication with a minimal fee. Otherwise we become embroiled in these debates, like africans can't afford this or that because they cannot afford it, so they die, and it's a fait acompli massacre or genocide.

    And then there's the separate issue of this antibiotic: how long before staph is resistant to it, too.

    The best thing I ever did to fight respiratory infections was to stop eating antibiotic laden meat.

  • reality check (Score:2, Insightful)

    by barryfandango (627554)
    We live in a capitalist system. Companies that don't operate in a profit-making model die faster than staph-infected peasants. Perhaps this sucks but it's our system. If a company comes up with a miracle cure at the expense of millions of dollars, should its next move be to give it all away and go out of business? The solution is for the government to subsidize the cost of the cure so sick people can afford it. In a free market system, big business has no mandate to look out for anybody's well being. That's where the government is supposed to come in.
  • I still find it funny that the healthiest lifestyle is to be filthy [geek.com]; the more crap your exposed to the stronger your immune system becomes. This includes allergies too [pureinsight.org] Of course, it's still a double edged sword because, if your immune system gets knocked out for some other reason (injury, AIDS, etc) then you're really hosed.
    I mean, how ofter does your dog get sick? Nearly never, probably because he has his nose in all kinds of shit on a daily basis.
  • This type of development requires lots of up front money, with only a statistical likelihood of success. If you want this money to come from investors, they need to see a pot of gold potentially at the end. The only alternative is for the money to come from the government or charitable foundations. Actually, in the real world, funding is from a mix of these sources. However, if you cut back patenting as we now know it, you have to push the funding much more toward public sources, which has its own set of problems.

    I don't think many people are ready to completely socialize health-care related R&D. What a scary thought.
    • As a student learning in medical science and biochemistry, I believe that I can make a living researching in a university, and I can, also earn money from what my efforts deserve, YET, If it's about getting another 1 * 10^x (x being smaller than infinity), and one life is going away, I am NOT going to make it, unless the 10^x going away means I will die.

      (REALITY check - will you sacrifice your life for other's? I don't.)
  • We spend a lot of time bitching about software patents around here. Drug patents are worse, though. There's a difference, in that (to my knowledge) most drug patents involve more actual research and investment than the chikenshit software and business method patents we see. However, this doesn't change the fact that drug patents are not only killing our economy, but they're also unethical and immoral.

    Killing our economy you say? Hello? Pharmaceutical industries are one of the most profitable sectors of the economy, and doubtless most of us have mutual funds highly bolstered by investments in pharmaceutical companies. Well, fine, but look at the bigger picture. Health care costs are spiraling. The reason? Part of it is due to spiraling drug prices. And drug prices are expensive because they're proprietary; once you can get a generic substitute, drugs come much cheaper. They would be much cheaper to start with if generics were available sooner. And that would take a huge burden off of employer sponsored health plans (which are getting more expensive and covering less), not to mention state and federal health plans which are in serious trouble even as we're talking about adding a perscription drug plan to medicate. Every "cost saving" plan I see just shifts the costs around, it doesn't address any of the reasons why the costs are too high. Eliminating pharmaceutical patents would address that reason.

    Unethical and immoral? That one's more obvious. Never mind the poor folk in our country (I'm in the USA) who can't afford the drugs. Never mind our law enforcement agencies leaning on Canada to clamp down on the people from the USA who cross the border to get the drugs they need at a price they can afford. Just look at the millions in Africa dying of AIDS. At international AIDS conferences, our country, our democratic leaders who represent us, have to stand up and say that it's important that American intellectual property be protected. We can't give the drugs away, we can't just allow anybody who can put together a production line to make them. (Which itself can be expensive, but much less than what you pay when you're also paying the patent.) So as to protect our precious intellectual property, we have to argue to the world that it's better to let the poor people of poor countries die. Is this really what we as a nation want to be standing up to the world and saying?

    Fine, you will object, I've got my head in the clouds. Developing drugs is expensive. Without the patent protection that allows companies to get a return on their investment, there never would have been the investment in the first place. If I eliminate drug patents, I will also eliminate all the new drugs I was trying to make afforadable, the argument will go. Well, maybe, but it's not so obvious to me. What is obvious is that the current system is both untenable and immoral, and so therefore we have to ask what else we can do. Consider the goverment investing much more heavily in health research than it does now. More government spending? Maybe-- we should find out if that spending would really be that much more once we factor in the savings that will come from the much cheaper drugs our federal health care programs will be purchasing. Additionally, I believe that already right now the government funds a fair amount of drug research, including some for drugs that end up patented. Given the ills of the current system, we have ask if something else can be done.

    Unfortunately, we won't. Pharmaceutical companies are rich, and thus highly influential. Plus, I'm talking about killing them; not the researchers, not the people doing the valuable work, but I am talking about removing the ability for those who aren't actually doing the work to profit from us. (Obviously, the drug research is important, so any replacement system would have to have a way to employ and pay those who are actually developing the new drugs.) And it goes deeper than that; it's all of us with our mutual funds heavily invested in pharmaceutical companies. Killing drug patents would probably send our country into a crushing recession for several years as all of those fund tanked. But I sincerely believe that if done right, the country that emerged out of the other end would both be more economically sound and more moral.

    In the mean time, drug costs will continue to spiral upward, more and more people are going to have a harder and harder time affording health care, and our leaders are going to have to argue to the world that the crucial interests American economy require us to allow people in other unimportant countries to die of various diseases.

    -Rob

    • If I eliminate drug patents, I will also eliminate all the new drugs I was trying to make afforadable, the argument will go. Well, maybe, but it's not so obvious to me

      Nice way to shrug off the core of the problem. Your rant is pretty much all fluff if you don't even address the issue. Yes, we all know that people not getting drugs to cure disease is bad. That's obvious. Any suggestions?
      • Nice way to shrug off the core of the problem. Your rant is pretty much all fluff if you don't even address the issue. Yes, we all know that people not getting drugs to cure disease is bad. That's obvious. Any suggestions?

        I suppose you could have read the rest of my post, but naaaah, that would required time, effort, and thought.

        -Rob

        • Oh, I found where you suggested a solution!:

          Obviously, the drug research is important, so any replacement system would have to have a way to employ and pay those who are actually developing the new drugs.)

          And don't you think that if there were some kind of system to do so that somebody would have come up with it already, or it would have already been implemented, Captain Obvious?
  • AquaPharm are now responsible for the lives of the people who could be cured by an otherwise readily available antibiotic that they are keeping secret.

    No better way to shame them then to state simple facts, and expose the consequences of their greed.
  • by grub (11606) <slashdot@grub.net> on Friday February 28, 2003 @09:01AM (#5405325) Homepage Journal

    For many years, alcohol has been recognized as an excellent disinfectant. It kills germs and viruses without exception. I strongly recommend taking in large quantities of Guinness Stout [guinness.ie] or if you live in Manitoba, Canada; Fort Garry Dark Ale [fortgarry.com].

    You're be helping the economy and keeping yourself safe from bioterror attack.

    This has been another public service message from GrubCo.
  • by TheMidget (512188) on Friday February 28, 2003 @09:04AM (#5405336)
    To those flaming against these "evil patentmongers", in this instance it may actually be a good thing:

    Just think about why we had the problem with antibiotic-resistant staph in the first place: overuse of antibiotics. While in the old days antibiotics where reserved for serious diseases, nowadays, they are prescribed for the smallest flu and the faintest cough.

    Keeping this new wonder medicine patented will ensure that it will stay expensive enough that it will only be used when really needed. Or else we might get some Antibiotic resistant staph antibiotic antibiotic resistant staph...

    • You do have a point.
      A good one.

      But when push come to shove this will probably mean that the rich get the cure and the poor (as usual) gets shafted.
      There's huge potential for abuse in the patent system.
      I hope that won't be the case here.

      But misuse of antibiotics also ranks quite high on the 'threats to mankind' list.
      This patent properly handled could be a good thing.
  • Step 1: flood the world with cheap conventional antibiotics, thus rendering all bacteria resistant, and all conventional antibiotics useless.
    Step 2: ???
    Step 3: Profit!

    Where '???' is protected by the DMCA and any attempts to discover it will be prosecuted.

  • by NilesDonegan (136760) on Friday February 28, 2003 @09:11AM (#5405383)
    As a Staph researcher, I should say that it's wonderful that there's a new promising antibiotic out there, BUT we have no information on a) how effective it is on different strains of Staph b) if it's specific to Staph or to a wide variety of bacteria or MOST importantly c) if it's toxic to humans. The last thing you want is to get sicker while taking it.

    So treat this more as a press release, less as a scientific discovery until the peer reviewed articles and FDA approval phases start.

    Niles
  • ..Now there is yet another drug that patients can abuse because they believe it will help them get rid of a cold.

    Though I've yet to see any clinical research supporting the theory that abusing antibiotics creats drug resistant strains of bacteria, the fact still remains that many, many, many patients force their doctors to prescribe them un-needed antibiotics for viral infections. If you dont believe me, try reading the sci.med.* newsgroups or WebMD message boards. I would not want to be a doctor during the height of the cold/flu season..
  • Nice editorializing (Score:5, Informative)

    by liquidsin (398151) on Friday February 28, 2003 @09:19AM (#5405430) Homepage
    I have a question for the fellow who submitted this story: do you have any info that we don't? You've gone and claimed that this cure won't be readily / cheaply available, but I didn't find that information anywhere in the article. And now everyone else has gone off talking about how horrible pharmaceutical companies are. Like it or not, they do have the right to make money. If you want to spend your life trying to find cures for diseases and give them away, all the best to you, but these companies are in no way obligated to do the same. And NOWHERE in the linked article does it say that they plan to charge exorbitant fees for their findings. It simply says that they're patenting it. Good for them. Once it's protected by a patent they can go ahead and finish their research and develop some good drugs. Then, and only then, *if* they artificially limit availability or charge ridiculous ammounts of money for it, can you judge them. But we can always hope that they'll make a fair profit on it that they can use to do more research and that'll be it.
  • by xA40D (180522) on Friday February 28, 2003 @09:25AM (#5405473) Homepage
    I read a while back that the antibiotic approach to dealing with bacteria will always result in resistant strains of that bacteria. You can mitigate the problem by ensuring people take the full course of antibiotics, but eventually resistant strains will emerge.

    The article went on to note that a diferent approach seemed to be 100% effective in killing bacteria.

    Bacteriophages.

    Very simply if you take sample from the places that a particular strain of a bacteria is known to be present - an then alalyse these samples - you will eventually find a virus that simply eats the bacteria. Cultivate large amounts of the virus, and you can use it to kill the bacteria.

    The article highlighted the Russians who, during the cold war, became quite good with Bateriophages. But that problems with patents and financing prevented the commercial exploitation
    of their knowlegebase.

    From what I could understand bacteriophage development is so simple, it would be impossible to make any money out of it.

    Can't make any money out of it?!!?

    Makes you think.
    • From what I could understand bacteriophage development is so simple, it would be impossible to make any money out of it.

      Huh? If it's so "simple," then that implies cheap. If it's cheap, there's little R&D to recoup. If it's patentable (as you implied with your line about the Russians. I'm not sure why the USSR cared about American patents anyway, but I'll let that slide), one can make a profit, quickly recouping R&D costs.

      Assuming the article you read wasn't just totally full of shit, there could be another reason why it's not profitable. There simply aren't that many antibiotic immune bacteria. Any new drug would almost certainly be orders of magnitude more expensive during the patent period than generic antibiotics, and there's very little that can't be cured with the right antibiotic at the right dosage. If antibiotic immune bacteria become more common, then people will pay a premium for bacteriophage based medicine, because there will be no alternative. Then it will become profitable.

    • Even before we really started to gain mastery over antibiotics, bacteriophages were studied quite extensively as a means for eradicating disease within in a patient. The problem? They simply don't work. Study after study has shown that sufficient numbers can't be delivered to the patient, and even when they are they don't have the anticipated the effect (ie bacteria don't die). You have to remember that the human body is hella complicated, and what will work on simple media won't necessarily work in vitro. I don't remember all the theories as to why it doesn't work, but I'm pretty sure the immune system is one of them--bacteriophages are non-self. The body can't differentiate between a "good" non-self and a "bad" non-self and will quickly destroy the viruses--if they even survive digestion. Yes, there is a camp that believe that treatment by bacteriophage works, but the scientific community as a whole has nixed the whole idea as there has yet to be conclusive proof that it does.
  • by fw3 (523647)
    Why am I not surprised that it would be chrisd [dibona.com] intoning:

    AquaPharm Bio-Discovery ... 'is keeping the identity of its MRSA-killing bacteria a closely guarded secret, and taken out patents ...' Oh well."

    Sure, both the patent and medical regulatory agencies (FDA in particular) have their flaws. for my $0.02 there are far more wierdness in the medical industry (where I have 20 years engineering experience) than in the software industry (which is far less entrenched *at this point*).

    It takes most of a *decade* to get a prescription drug approved for marketing. Since much of this research is performed by US companies, and the US market is willing to spend *tons* of money keeping people with unhealthy life-styles alive, it needs to be done to meet FDA regulations. (This is the agency which, a generation later is still justifying its existence on the basis of a beaurocratic snafu which kept Thalidomide from being sold in the US).

    Furthermore the vast majority of active medical drug treatments are 'discovered' natural agents (hence the name of the company in question <doh>!). There's nothing special or new about the drug companies researching/patenting biochemical compounds.

    If people want something to actually be concerned about, maybe think on sub-saharan Africa who's population is being decimated (in the modern sense) by HIV, or the continuing loss of the very biodiversity which enables this kind of research.

    But it's much easier to cherish your gas guzzling / ugly / high pollution SUV or sit back and play with all the toys you can get at ThinkGeek && bitch about all those 'rich fuckers' abusing the patent process or 'killing people' by working in medical research than to actually effect change.

  • by passion (84900) on Friday February 28, 2003 @09:27AM (#5405490)

    In this case, I feel like they filed for a patent to save humanity from itself. We as a species are overusing antibiotics. They don't just go away when they exit our bodies, or when the pills, cleaners, feed and fertilizer adjuncts expire. They wash out into the ecosystem where they definitely kill a lot of bacteria... but this is the dark point.

    They get weakened and find a culture that has mutated, or is ready to mutate - and it survives. Not only does it live on, but it thrives because it's competition has been wiped out.

    Now when that super-bug comes back to knock on your door, it laughs at your antibiotic treatments.

    I would prefer to have a certain class of treatment guarded behind intellectual property laws. I would prefer to see doses of that treatment be rather expensive, so that Joe Sixpack isn't sprinkling it on his lawn, and flooding his watershed with the substance - almost dredging out recruits for the next generation of biowars.

    Instead, it should be reserved for last-case scenarios, and applied in surgical strike fashion.

  • by jimkski (304659) on Friday February 28, 2003 @09:31AM (#5405530)
    An important factor in the emergence of anti-biotic resistant bacterial infections is the rampant overuse of our mainstay anti-biotics by those in the medical community. Several years ago there the media started reporting on this issue when people began to note the prevalance of bacterial infections that didn't respond to conventional treatments. Doctors were found writing anti-biotic prescriptions even when such treatments were contraindicated. One doctor said that patients insisted that they receive anti-biotics and it seems easier to give them rather than put up with the fuss or risk a situation that might lead to a lawsuit.

    I don't condone price gouging by the pharmaceutical industry, but if this product is expensive and it prompts doctors to use it as a last resort, then it certainly will forstall the day when natural selection delivers us bacteria that are resistant to it.

  • The solution is simple: compulsory RAND licensing for any technology which has been proven to heal people. Let them make their money, but force them to share the benefits with everyone. Given the choice between compulsory licensing and denial of patent protectect, I think most companies would choose the licensing.
  • This is exactly what's wrong with captilaism in it's current form.

    I don't have a good answer as to how this type of thing can be fixed, but I have kicked around a few ideas. Bear with me here:

    Human greed should be considered inalienable. It's been here since we were throwing crap at each other from trees, and it's not going anywhere. Capitalism plays on this...hoard as big a pile of cash as you can manage.

    In a lot of respects, capitalism is a great system (better than others we've seen, anyway)...My feeling is that the 'currency' needs to be changed. Instead of dollars, why not hoard 'social credits'.

    For example, a big drug company like this could improve its reputation by releasing this info for the benefit of the human race, and then collecting 'social credits'.

    Obviously, this is a very rough idea, and other's have possibly thought along the same lines (I'm no economic scholar)...

    What we need is a system that encourages competition (that's how we get the best products), while at the same time also encourages benefitting the human population in any manner possible.

    I'd be interested to hear any theories, opinions and or ideas on the subject, just hit that reply button.

    -Ben
  • by Bazman (4849) on Friday February 28, 2003 @09:44AM (#5405676) Journal
    Its 'Antibiotic-resistant' - a compound adjective, so it is hyphenated. I had to read the header twice to figure out what it meant.

    Its the same difference as 'Man eating shark' (in a restaurant) and 'Man-eating shark' (in trouble).

    Baz
  • Life Saving Patent (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RhettLivingston (544140) on Friday February 28, 2003 @09:52AM (#5405756)

    The last thing we want is for this to become cheap and widely available. It will have to be expensive because we don't want anyone to get it until there it is proven that a particular case of MRSA is resistant to all existing antibiotics. And then, we only want it given on those particular cases. Thus, the costs of having found it, which could have been in the billions since its the cost of every project looking for naturally occurring drugs divided by the number of successes, and the cost of figuring out how to cultivate it, purify it, and of testing it all have to be defrayed against (hopefully) no more than a few thousands of cases.

    Its the fact that the antibiotics are too widely and easily available today that has caused this crisis. Now that a possible way out has been discovered, you propose to destroy it by making it cheap and widely available. Will we ever learn our lessons?

  • by Kombat (93720) <kombat@kombat.org> on Friday February 28, 2003 @10:09AM (#5405923) Homepage
    I'm seeing a lot of posts here about how evil the world is for potentially allowing this company to patent this thing and make it available only to the rich. People making these comments need to read a little bit about patent law.

    Disclaimer: The following applies to Canadian/US patent law. IANAUKL.

    Patents cannot be granted for things occurring naturally in nature. There have been cases where researchers discovered a cure for a disease in nature, and spent millions of dollars trying to reproduce the substance synthetically. This is because they couldn't patent the original organic material, but they *could* patent a synthetic copy.

    Secondly, part of patent law states that in being granted a patent, you must make the product available to the public at reasonable cost. The company that comes up with a cure for AIDS will not be granted a patent for the cure unless it is produced in a lab, and they will not be allowed to charge $200 a pill for it.

    Patents are not as unbalanced as some people seem to think. They're actually a good thing. They drive research and provide incentive to invest in new medicines, while keeping the balance of ensuring such medicines will be accessible to all, not just the rich. Particularly here in Canada, where we have universal health care.

  • by beef3k (551086) on Friday February 28, 2003 @10:16AM (#5405977)
    I work in a small company offering services to the pharmaceutical (aka "life science companies").

    First off, it comes as absolutely NO suprise that they are keeping this close to heart. These people keep their birthdates and surnames close to heart. The only place you can possibly find a higher level of paranoia is probably at the annual DefCon.

    Second, the pharmaceutical industry NEEDS TO TAKE OUT PATENTS TO SURVIVE.

    Developing one new drug costs hundreds of millions of dollars. If the drug turns out to be a complete failure near the end of the project (i.e. clinical testing on animals/humans), then they've wasted those hundreds of millions of dollars. That means they have to make a decent profit on their successes, otherwise one or two failures would send them straight out of business.

    If they didn't patent and protect their discoveries that would mean some other company could just start producing the drug themselves, and as they didn't spend all that money on developing it, competitive pricing is not exactly a problem and again the inventor is driven out of business.

    Either have your government use some of your tax money to fund this sort of research, or just accept the facts:

    1. We need medicine.
    2. Medicine is insanely expensive to develop.
    3. That means it will eventually cost you.

    All the people that are nagging on about how "all medicine should be freely available to everyone around the world", please take a moment and understand that if it was free then there wouldn't be any medicine in the first place. Yes the pharmaceutical industry does make a good profit, but it's needed to finance the failures.
  • by The_Laughing_God (253693) on Friday February 28, 2003 @11:27AM (#5406639)
    As a physician (and former researcher), I'm always surprised that, despite hundreds of media reports outlining the pharmaceutical company expenditures in some detail, the public doesn't seem to realize that the large pharmaceutical conglomerates spend several times as much on promotion and marketing as on R+D, clinical testing, etc.

    Of course, it's not the public's fault if the facts are muddied. All too often, the media's brain-dead interpretation of "fairness" and "balance" consists of providing roughly equal time (or arguments of apparently roughly equal weight) even when that same outlet may already have thoroughly discredited a given argument. They are selling the appearance of fairness, after all. Actual fairness is as irrelevant as the *decrease* in aerodynamic performance caused by the rocket/jet fins and detailing of many cars in the 50/60's. Appearances are everything.

    But to return to the pharmaceuticals companies: R+D is "a major expense" only after a tangled borderline perjurious accounting that was previously reserved for Ponzi schemes and the recording industry. Many of these ultra-expensive wonder drugs are sold for half as much in Canada, and a quarter the price or less in some parts of Europe, Asia or Africa. This wouldn't be the case if they were desperately trying to recoup genuine costs at their inflated US prices (because they'd be losing money on every non-US sale). They're just charging what the market will bear.

    Further, as regards "innovation". Every week, I am bombarded by literally hundreds of ads (in medical journals, direct mailings an drug reps who barge in with no appointment, but are my sole source for "free samples" for my poor patients) for new wonderdrugs thhat are nothing more than 'me-too' knock-off. They move a hydroxyl group or a carbon atom on an existing drug, and run hundreds of tests (talk about expensive!) looking for some minute benefit over a current wonder drug (which they may also own). Almost invariably, the me-too is *less* effective or safe OVERALL than the existing drug (the lack of overall improvement is so consistent thatI sometimes think they're marketing the also-rans of the initial development effort - it would certainly be cheaper) Often the original 'wonder drug (progenitor of a new class) is itself only occassionally better than far cheaper and safer generic alternatives

    Let me cite an example: in most cases, diuretics (drugs that cause you to urinate excess water) are both more effective and safer, at pennies a day, than Calcium Channel blockers and ACE (angiotensin convertine enzyme) inhibitors that cost several dollars a day -- for life! The study that proved this was one of the best and most unarguable in years, yet drug reps and execs will openly tell you that they aren't worried. "No one is pushing (marketing) cheap, safe diuretics which doctors have used for other purposes for centuries". Why do you think they market directly to patients? A few years ago, TVs and billboards were flooded with ads that didn't even specify what the drug was for, but urged "Ask your doctor". Perfectly healthy people came in, asking, afraid they were missing out on the Latest Greatest Thing.

    Another example is the new anti-AIDS drug Fuzeon, widely hailed as an example of a drug whose high price ($20,570/yr = E19,000) is justified because it takes over 100 steps to prepare. Even if you accept their own figures justifying the cost, R+D was SFr 840 million ($620 million) and annual sales are projected to be $740 million per year, once hey hit full production (by which time, production costs are expected to be 10-15% of current levels)

    Here are a couple of articles, for those who are still reading:
    In U.S., marketing blurs into medicine [iht.com]
    A more general analysis of the industry by the Markle Foundation [tnr.com] (health care advocates)

    Sorry for the rant.

  • by TygerFish (176957) on Friday February 28, 2003 @01:09PM (#5407529)
    There were a lot of interesting threads above arguing the right or lack of a right of a drug company to hold patent secrets and the attendent ability to set prices.

    This rapidly becomes a matter of taste in morals and what a society should allow or does allow in terms of ethics.

    The way pharmaceutical companies operate in many cases, is analogous to blackmail: a man walks up to a woman whose husband has a violent temper. He tells her that he has put them in a place where her husband is bound to find them very soon unless he gives her all the money she can beg, borrow or steal.

    Like someone with a fatal illness, the woman has very little time to respond and has to put many of her resources into providing for her tormentor's profit.

    One man is a filthy criminal. The other is a corporate hero.

    It is interesting to note that when there is a sufficient pressure of national interest, governments lesson or remove the power of companies and individuals to derive profit from their inventions (see the conflict between the Wright Brothers and the Inventor Curtis over the aileron at the start of the first World War).

    The key question which is only resolved by the political will of the people in control is: 'at what point do the interests of the many (alleviation of suffering, survival ), outweigh the interests of corporations and entrepreneurs?'

    It's an ugly question. Not everyone has the stomach to intellectualize people dying of infection by a resistant strain so they can charge $100 for antibiotics instead of $10 but this is what drug companies are all about.
  • by g4dget (579145) on Friday February 28, 2003 @03:29PM (#5408952)
    Given the realities of the market and who ends up paying for drugs, it turns out to be cheaper for drugs to be developed through government research and then manufactured generically. If private companies develop the drugs, the public doesn't need to pay for drug development directly, but the public ends up paying many times over in terms of higher drug prices.

    Another problem with private development of drugs is that market forces cause the development of the wrong kinds of drugs: you get dozens of redundant designer anti-allergy drugs, but less common diseases don't get addressed.

    Research is something the government has demonstrated they are good and efficient at. And, in fact, a lot of private drug research is still partially supported by the government anyway.

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