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Biotech Patents

Researchers Work Around Hepatitis Drug Patent 298

Several readers let us know about a pair of British researchers who found a workaround to patents covering drugs used to treat hepatitis C. The developers intend to produce a drug cheap enough to supply to people in the poorest parts of the world. The scientists found another way to bind a sugar to interferon, producing a drug they say should be as long-lasting and effective as those sold (at $14,000 for a year's supply) by patent holders Hoffman-La Roche and Schering Plough. Clinical trials could begin by 2008. The article quotes developer Sunil Shaunak of Imperial College London: "We in academic medicine can either choose to use our ideas to make large sums of money for small numbers of people, or to look outwards to the global community and make affordable medicines."
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Researchers Work Around Hepatitis Drug Patent

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @03:32AM (#17441098)
    Isn't it pathetic that researchers or bussinesses try to find workarounds for patents? This kind of news shows that patent ruling is totally flawed by design. I'm in favor of giving inventor a commercial advantage for his/her invention. This can be tax reduction for product using this patent etc. But giving inventor a monopolistic right is stupid however you evaluate the idea.
  • by joelt49 ( 637701 ) <`joelt49' `at' `yahoo.com'> on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @03:41AM (#17441146) Homepage
    No, it's not. Inventor's don't have to share anything with the outside world. Patents are simply recognizing the inventor's right to say, "I'll show you how to do X if you promise to do Y." Why shouldn't the inventor have the right do do that? It's his invention after all. There may be specific problems with the implementation of our current patent system, sure. But granting monopolistic privileges in some form is still a good idea and respect's the inventor's rights.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @03:45AM (#17441172)
    You missed the profits. Don't forget the silly profits. Almost £7 billion profit for Glaxosmithkline. You read that right - £7,000,000,000 - or $14,000,000,000.

    They're suggesting making cheap drugs, keeping the patents away from big companies, and having clinical testing subsidised by the countries where they'd be used (which seems fair if they aren't trying to profiteer), as well as developing drugs on obscure illnesses which the west doesn't have (and big business ignores). It's a win/win situation. Stop making a noble effort sound like something bad.
  • yes, you are (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @03:49AM (#17441186)
    1. Drug companies have to turn a profit; otherwise, they don't produce the drugs.

    Drug companies spend far more money on advertising than they do on research and development. The next time you watch "Wheel of Fortune", you might realize that the billions of dollars being spent pushing viagra and nexium on everyone are NOT making their way to fundamental advances in science.

    2. The more money a drug company makes off a medicine, the more valuable it is. A drug company's profits are a function of how much people value that drug -- the drug's social utility (this is basic economics).

    No matter what the local basement-dwelling Rand-ite may tell you, economics is not a science and is not necessarily the best model for health care. Human welfare is not a widget that can (or should) be bought and sold like a car or an mp3 player.

    3. Once the drug companies patents run out, anyone can produce generic medicines cheaply.

    And how many millions of people will die in the meantime?

  • Re:fallacious (Score:2, Insightful)

    by joelt49 ( 637701 ) <`joelt49' `at' `yahoo.com'> on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @03:53AM (#17441212) Homepage
    Your comment shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the way things work in a capitalist society. Even with this drug, the researchers will have to convince some drug company to manufacture and distribute this drug. How will they do it? By convincing the manufacturer that they will be able to make a profit off of it. Here's the crux of the issue -- you state, As the above example shows, you don't need extra profit to develop a new drug. That's true. But in rare circumstances. The key is when you say "a" new drug. Not many new drugs. Why hasn't this method been used for lots of other patented drugs? Most likely b/c it's impracticable on a large scale.

    You're unlikely to replicate the research large drug companies do in academia. Somebody has to pay for the research. The money has to come from somewhere. That somewhere is usually from profits from drugs. And as I said earlier, profits are an indication of social utility -- how much people value the drug. The more profits, the more people value the drug. The larger the profit, the more good the drug does, and the more incentive to produce that drug (which is why capitalism is pretty cool). While you are denying people the drug now, it will be available to them in the future. With most patented medicines, the drug wouldn't have been developed in the first place if the drug companies didn't think they could have turned a profit. As I said, it's better to have the drug available in 14 years or so (or however long patents expire) than not have the drug available at all.

    And admittedly, I haven't read the article. However, the summary mentions that the researchers are mimicking the actions of a patented drug. How do you think it was found out that this particular action helped in the first place? I'd be willing to bet my $.02 that it came from commercial drug companies hoping to make a profit.

    Bottom line: Drug companies have to make a profit. They have to recover costs (and R&D costs are huge, as are clinical trials, and a lot of money gets spent researching drugs that will never make it to market). Patents ensure this and also incentivize drug companies to develop the most useful medicines.
  • Not at all (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Habrok ( 987413 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @03:57AM (#17441236)

    It was "we in academic medicine", not "we in corporate medicine". Academic research is not motivated by profits, or at least, it should not be.

    Secondly, you can't really apply demand-supply analysis on life-saving drugs. When it is a matter of life and death (and there isn't any alternative product), the demand is infinite.

    Thirdly, it is quite possible to provide economic (and other) incentives to researchers, even without patents.

    You know, there's a reason why doctors take the hippocratic oath [wikipedia.org]. Medical researchers should do well to remember those reasons.

  • by wired_LAIN ( 974675 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @03:58AM (#17441244)
    Keep in mind that what is deemed an unacceptable drug in the developed world can be a huge benefit to developing nations. For example, lets say I have a very cheap drug that cures malaria in 80% of patients, but causes severe side effects in the remaining 20%. Clearly, this is unacceptable in the USA or other developed nations. However, in many countries in Africa, where millions of people die from malaria every year, this drug is perfect - its cheap, and it cures most of the patients. Regardless of the reletively high side effects, the benefit is enough that a drug like this would be considered a godsend by nearly all sub-saharan nations.
  • Re:fallacious (Score:4, Insightful)

    by GravelordBocephus ( 873797 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @03:59AM (#17441260)
    "(the more profit, the more useful it is)" So a treatment for cancer taken three times daily for the rest of your life is more useful than a cure for cancer? I'll keep that in mind.
  • Re:fallacious (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FinalMidnight ( 652617 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @04:06AM (#17441294)
    Wow! I'm gobsmacked at your sheer, unabashed ignorance of "The way things work".

    To the first: what do you think the ratio of new drug research is to profits? For a major drug company? Conversely, what do you think the ratio of marketing vs profits? Got a clue? No? Feel free to go do a little googling. It is an open secret that drug companies spend almost nothing (compared) on research into new drugs. Even then the research directed is in very, very specific (eg profitable) areas. Hint! It makes a lot more money to market a drug for "Erectile Disfunction" than to actually make a simple, cheap cure for just about any disease you care to name.

    To address your second point: The profits made from a drug are a reflection of the profitability of that drug. Nothing more or less. Concrete examples of how _value_ and _profit_ are distinct concepts to follow.

    To the third: Once patents run out, drug companies market new, patented drugs. Older, generic drugs are not marketed. Part of the reason this happens is that drug companies advertise directly to doctors (who write the perceptions) and part of the reason is that drug stores make more money selling drugs that cost more. There are a bunch of simple ways to fix most of this in legislation. That, however, is another can of worms.

    Examples of point two and the relationship with point three:

    Ritalin: Heard of it? Great! How about Dexamphetamine? Not so much? Little known fact! Dexampetamine is a more effective treatment for ADD and ADHD than Ritalin. However it is perscribed less than a fifth as much. Why? Because the patents on Dexamphetamine ran out years ago. It can be made by any drug company and is a commodity item. Profits are very, very low. Ritalin is very profitable because it is a treatment. A patient will need to continue to take Rtalin for years. Possibly forever. Profitability: High! Value: Fuck All! Ritalin does a worse job than a drug that costs less than a third of the price.

    Treatment of stomach ulcers: A method of curing stomach ulcers has been around for more than ten years. Thats right, A complete cure! The Australian who discovered the cure was under attack from many major drug companies, who attempted to discredit him and his research. Why? Because anti-acid treatments of stomach ucers are a) Patented and b) something that needs to be taken _forever_. The cure relys on a simple, generic anti-biotic and some mineral treatments. Not patentable, therefore no profits.

    If you give a shit about any of these issues, you might be interested in the process of testing and approval that goes on in the USA compared to other countries (Like the UK or Canada) and what the differences mean. You might also be interested in the "Evergreening" of medical patents and the blatant kickbacks that medical companies give Doctors and Pharmacists.

    And YES, I am a fucking Pharmacist.
  • Good old USA (Score:4, Insightful)

    by oman_ ( 147713 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @04:07AM (#17441302) Homepage
    A thousand bucks says this is never going to pass FDA testing in the United States... and we'll never find out why.
  • Re:Thumbs up! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AuMatar ( 183847 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @04:21AM (#17441374)
    In capitalistic America, drug companies patent your genes. That will be 1 million dollars for infringing, payable up front.
  • by vandan ( 151516 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @04:22AM (#17441390) Homepage
    No, it's not. Inventor's don't have to share anything with the outside world.

    And where did this inventor get their education from? And their materials? And their food?

    It is the responsibility of inventors to share their ideas with all society. As others have pointed out, they have a right to make a fair living off these ideas. But there is a limit to how 'fair' you can get, and making billions of dollars in profits while others are suffering and dying is going way past that point.

    Joelt, You need to have a good, long think about yourself. Profit is not the most important thing in the world.
  • Re:fallacious (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bitkari ( 195639 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @04:42AM (#17441498) Homepage
    You're unlikely to replicate the research large drug companies do in academia.

    The good folk at The Wellcome Trust [wellcome.ac.uk] might disagree with you there.

    And unlike purely commercial entities, and while they do commercialise some of their efforts, they aren't trying to extract as much profit as possible like Pfizer, GSK, AstraZeneca are.

    Bottom line: Drug companies have to make a profit. They have to recover costs

    Drug companies DO have to make a profit, but to say that this is to recoup their R&D costs is a little naive. These companies must return a substantial profit for their shareholders. R&D is simply a means to an end, and that end is shareholder value.

    Non-profit entities (as nicely detailed in TFA) are quite able to make great advances in medical science without the requirement for profit.

    Pharmaceutical companies could then strive to manufacture these "open" drugs in as an efficient way as possible, in an effort to compete with other manufacturers. This competitiveness would give us, the public cheap, quality drugs, and allow the manufacturing companies to make a profit.

    This is capitalism as it should be. This is medicine as it should be.

  • by BCoates ( 512464 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @04:42AM (#17441506)
    Claiming "medical patents spur innovation" isn't the same as claiming that "there would be no research at all without medical patents".
  • by noidentity ( 188756 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @04:56AM (#17441568)
    "I'll show you how to do X if you promise to do Y." Why shouldn't the inventor have the right do do that? It's his invention after all.

    The problem is that many discoveries are also given this treatment, preventing use by others who independently discover the same thing.
  • Re:Good old USA (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MosesJones ( 55544 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @05:03AM (#17441602) Homepage
    Which is actually fine as most people in the US can afford to pay for the drug or have the insurance anyway. I don't think that people in Africa are going to care too much that something doesn't have FDA approval if it is actually proven safe and proven effective by people such as WHO or the Red Cross.

    This isn't aimed at helping the USA, its aimed at helping the rest of the world.
  • by Joebert ( 946227 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @05:07AM (#17441630) Homepage
    Profit is not the most important thing in the world.

    Perhaps, but the most important thing in the world happens to like guys with big, profits.
  • by Znork ( 31774 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @06:03AM (#17441832)
    "Think of it this way: if those companies weren't guaranteed profit in case of discovering something useful, they wouldn't do the research in the first place."

    Except, of course, they're not guaranteed the profit for the research, they're guaranteed the profit from having a monopoly. Which essentially means their incentive is to get as much profit out of the monopoly as possible (ie, a huge incentive for marketing) while investing the bare minimum necessary to gain another monopoly into research.

    And, of course, ignoring the fact that if we didnt grant those monopolies could very well be spending the money now going to the pharmas directly on research instead, thus getting more than five times the R&D done for the same amount of money we spend on medicines today.
  • Re:fallacious (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nagora ( 177841 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @06:07AM (#17441852)
    Large profits give drug companies an incentive to develop the most useful medicines (the more profit, the more useful it is)

    You have perfectly summed up why drug companies spend most of their time (and budgets) on fleecing rich people instead of curing poor people.

    While you can make the argument that a specific drug X or Y would still be developed in the absence of profit motives, this is overlooking the fact that reduced profits mean a reduced incentive to produce drugs in the future.

    Reduced profits is not "no profits" and the incentive of having to compete would in fact be a much greater push to produce new drugs once the artificial protection period of the patent was removed.

    Your argument makes the incorrect assumption that drug companies want to cure disease. They do not; quite the reverse, in fact. They can't make money off healthy people.


  • Re:fallacious (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Znork ( 31774 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @06:32AM (#17441978)
    "Large profits give drug companies an incentive to develop the most useful medicines"

    No. A monopoly give drug companies a large incentive for marketing. And fails to give drug companies appropriate market incentive for efficiency. 80% of pharma revenue is spent on marketing, administration and inefficient production. The R&D is just a necessary evil to obtail the particular monopoly necessary; witness the classic twist-a-molecule game to gain another 20 years monopoly with minimum investment and minimum improvement over current drugs (coincidentally, the particular game that is turned against the pharmaceuticals in this case).

    "Look at it this way: What's better -- not having a drug at all, or having the drug be very costly for about 14 years and then having cheap generic equivalent?"

    How about this alternative: having _five times_ the current amount of medical R&D and no pharma marketing at no increase in cost, or the same R&D but at a fifth of the cost and no pharma marketing?

    Monopolies are a crap way to create any way or form of efficiency. The IP sector is no different from any other sector; protect companies from competition and you get bloated inefficient organizations capable of wasting unlimited amounts of funding and revenue.

    Of course you'll see those bloated corporations claiming the monopoly is necessary; for their current level of inefficiency it _is_ necessary. However, that inefficiency itself isnt necessary, and a free market situation would force them to correct it, while leaving us free to more appropriately steer money into R&D.
  • what do you think the ratio of new drug research is to profits? For a major drug company? Conversely, what do you think the ratio of marketing vs profits? Got a clue? No? Feel free to go do a little googling.
    In case the grandparent poster is Google impaired - a condition that medical science has yet to find a cure for ;) - I'll be happy to supply some links:

    Here are the Financial Highlights from the annual reports of Novartis [novartis.com], Pfizer [pfizer.com] and AstraZeneca [astrazeneca.com]. They all spend around 15% of their revenues on research. The number is typical for the industry. The other 85% go to other things, according to their own figures. More than half their revenues are spent on marketing and profits.

    So the standard argument for granting patent monopolies and allowing the pharma companies to charge whatever they want for the patented drugs - that they spend the excess revenues on research for new drugs - is simply not true.

    The organization Doctors Without Borders gives an example of how pharmaceutical patents affect prices i a recent press release [msf.org]:

    The case of AIDS illustrates the trend. While fierce generic competition has helped prices for first-line AIDS drug regimen to fall by 99% from $10,000 to roughly $130 per patient per year since 2000, prices for second-line drugs - which patients need as resistance develops naturally - remain high due to increased patent barriers in key generics producing countries like India.
    In this particular case, the price with patents was a hundred times the price without patents. How can 15% spent on R&D justify a markup by 10,000% on the final product?

    To the western world, pharmaceutical patents mean an enormous waste of money. In the third world, it's lives that are wasted instead. It's time to think about an alternative.

    And alternatives exist - plenty of them, in fact. Nobel prize winner Joseph E Stiglitz has made one proposal [bmj.com]. The Swedish Pirate Party has made another [piratpartiet.se] (or essentially the same, actually). Economist Dean Baker has collected four others [cepr.net], that also run along the same lines.

    It's time to open up a global discussion about the effects of pharmaceutical patents, and the alternatives. Today's system is not only grossly immoral, it is also expensive and wasteful. It's time for a better way. Pharmaceutical patents kill.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @08:19AM (#17442468)
    It is funny you mentioned GlaxoSmithKline since the Rector of Imperial ( Sir Richard Sykes ) is the guy who facilitated the merger between Glaxo and Smith Kline. I would be very curious to find out what is his attitude against this research which apparently is not good news ( PR wise, I suppose ) for GlaxoSmithKline ( among others ).
  • by dwandy ( 907337 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @08:29AM (#17442580) Homepage Journal
    To show an example [yahoo.com] to illustrate this (picked purely at random, and may not be typical in the industry, but I suspect it is):

    Revenue (ttm) : 52.21B
    Gross Profit (ttm): 42.77B
    Profit Margin (ttm): 24.17%

    ...and this [yahoo.com] shows the industry enjoys about a 65% Gross Margin.

    Contrast that with an industry that doesn't enjoy protection on it's product, say Toyota [yahoo.com] (also picked randomly but assumed to be more or less industry leader at this time)

    Revenue (ttm): 189.92B
    Gross Profit (ttm): 34.83B
    Profit Margin (ttm): 7.00%
    ...and this industry has to make do with only about 19% Gross Margin [yahoo.com].

    So to agree with what you're saying: Pfizer made some 42billion dollars in profits because they have protection on their product; and that profit comes directly from the consumer, and comes directly at the expense of sick people that can't afford the drugs they produce.

    'Research' is an expense which decreases profit. Such large profits are simply monopoly protection income that has not been spent as promised: on research.
    This clearly shows us that we need to at a minimum reduce the patent term, and more realisticly review the very concept of drug patents.

    Anyone who argues that the current patent system is necessary or healthy in the face of these abnormal profits is sick and twisted or stupid or corrupt or maybe all of the above ...

  • Re:fallacious (Score:3, Insightful)

    by orasio ( 188021 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @08:45AM (#17442714) Homepage

    The money has to come from somewhere. That somewhere is usually from profits from drugs. And as I said earlier, profits are an indication of social utility -- how much people value the drug. The more profits, the more people value the drug. The larger the profit, the more good the drug does, and the more incentive to produce that drug (which is why capitalism is pretty cool).
    Capitalism has some cool things. This is exactly where it fails.
    You are counting people as equals. You equate amount of money invested with people that benefit. That is just not true, specially in a capitalistic society.

    If your reasoning had any logic, then casinos would be more valuable for society than hospitals, because there's more money invested into them.

    The most money, globally, is overrepresented for rich people problems, like cancer and alzheimer. Globally, the most short term benefit for people as a whole would be acheived if that money was invested (as an example) into _cheap_ vaccines for AIDS, and other infectious diseases.

    The bias is set by concentration of wealth, and while it is the way things work and we should deal with it, it is a flaw in the system.

    Of course, the same thing happens in a less obvious fashion, inside developed and underdeveloped countries.
    Pharma companies get patents granted , and then the governments that granted them, are not able to pay for proper treatment for their citizens.

    If governments in general spent their money into funding research instead of paying for already invented medicine, there is no reason to believe, a priori, that the outcome would be worse than the current (bad) situation.

    Of course, it is more obvious in the third world. There is little natural incentive to honor foreing patents, and that is why trade agreements that protect "IP" are so important for the US and the EU.

    The issue is very similar to the proprietary software vs free software thing. The same thing was argued, back in the day, that big software could not be developed without funding, and the promise of future profit from licenses. That was proven to be non true. I'm really hoping something like that (not the same, but a system that shares some fundamentals witht he FSF) happens in the pharma industry. I think it could happen.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @09:19AM (#17443046)
    no one else could have written harry potter

    Actually, I think most of us could have written that.
    Magic, wizards, weird names and children: the recipe for every fantasy children's story in the last 50 years.
  • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @09:28AM (#17443118) Journal
    You could save half of the development costs upfront, as pharma companies already spend more on marketing than on research and development. BTW - only a small fraction of that money goes to the commercials you see - most comes from the armies of representatives that ply doctors offices with samples, notepads, pens, junkets, and other freebies. And it works - they doctors get the dog and pony show, and even if they don't take the free trips/tickets/gifts, they remember the sales pitch.

    I happen to be suceptable to sinusitis, and twice in the past (when under full healthcare) I have been given Augmentin, then later Augmentin XR when it came out. A 10 day treatment, I found out once I switched to a high-deductible plan without a pharm co-pay, runs about $300. Now, it turns out that Augmentin is just a large-dose amoxicillin with a bit of clavulanic acid, a beta-lactamase inhibitor, which is added to extend the life of the amoxicillin. This winter I ended up with sinusitis following a mild head cold, and sucessfully treated it (with the doctor's permission) using a 14 day course of equivalent-dose amoxicillin. For $10. The previous physician had the big sell on Augmentin, and since it was "better" and most doctors don't keep up on drug costs the latest and greatest was prescribed. This is small change when you look at bigger, long-term drugs, but is indicative of the effect of the one-on-one marketing, and the return.
  • Re:fallacious (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Daetrin ( 576516 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @10:34AM (#17443790)
    I've seen hundreds of commercials for antacids but this is the first time i've ever heard of an actual _cure_ for ulcers. As a doctor you may know about more effective treatments or even cures for any particular problem, but i don't think that in itself negates the grand-parent's argument that whenever possible treatments are what is pushed by pharma marketing departments, not cures, and if possible they'd rather sell a more expensive patented treatment than a cheaper generic one.

    And YES, I am just a normal guy with no medical training whatsoever.

  • by dosquatch ( 924618 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @11:52AM (#17444934) Journal

    Do you really care what a doctor's motivations were as long as they make a cure or treatment for something available to those rich enough to afford it as fast as they possibly can?

    There, fixed it for you.

  • by Znork ( 31774 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @12:57PM (#17446002)
    If you in and analyze the numbers on the books of the pharmaceuticals you'll also note a other vast differences between their financials and companies like your car producer.

    IIRC, the breakdown is something like this:

    35% production
    35% marketing and administration
    15% R&D
    15% profit

    80% production
    10% marketing and administration
    5% R&D
    5% profit

    Now, the pharmaceuticals of course claim that they invest a high amount in R&D, with the comparison against other industries. However, what it really shows is that for a functional competetive industry, a large part of the end-price is the actual cost of producing the product (which, incidentally, is also why you dont get a problem with illegal car copies). It also shows that the efficiency of the industry is horrific; generics can usually be produced at a fraction of the price, so the 35% representing production would probably be cut to at least a third in a competetive market.

    End result; the vast overfinancing created by monopoly revenue is grossly inefficient in steering money towards the supposed goals, and instead create a waste unseen in other industry.
  • by Da_Weasel ( 458921 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @01:40PM (#17446678)
    Creative thinking, observing things from a unique perspective and hard work is what leads scientist to these discoveries. Saying that these discoveries are simply a matter of putting a few more bricks on an existing wall and that someone else eventually would have done this anyway is an insult to the discoveries of the scientific community.

    Harry Potter built on a wealth of previously existing literature about wizards and magic, but that doesn't cheapen it in anyway...

    Just because you don't see the artistic, creative beauty of science doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. Things that are systematic and functional can also be artistic.
  • by vandan ( 151516 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @10:02PM (#17453252) Homepage
    There is plenty of money at the top end. It's a bald-faced lie that this type of research is not affordable by governments.

    There's one thing you can say about cold, callous bastards, they don't suck off the public teat. You'll never find one on welfare, they can pull their own weight.

    That's ridiculous! How can you possibly say that they're pulling their own weight? They earn thousands of times what the average worker does. Surely they don't work thousands of times harder. It is these people exactly that bludge off society, hence their massive income without having to work for it. Their welfare might not be paid for directly by the state, but the state intervenes to make sure that they can continue to extract their magnificent profits from everyone else, while not actually doing anything productive. Sure, there are people on welfare that take a small proportion of the GDP, but by comparison, the top end of town take hundreds of times more.

Thufir's a Harkonnen now.