Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Corporate Profits Take Priority over Breast Cancer Prevention?

A recent Nature article describes the cancellation of a planned NIH trial (STELLAR) that would have compared the effects of newcomer drug Letrozole to the older Raloxifene in preventing breast cancer in post-menopausal women. While many potentially valid reasons were offered for the cancellation, other issues raised give cause to question whether the North American approach to cancer drug development is fatally flawed:

"the panel was strongly influenced by the fact that letrozole, made by Novartis, goes off-patent in 2011."

Translation: Who cares if letrozole prevents breast cancer if a corporate monopoly won't have the chance to exploit for ridiculous profits?

Hopefully this statement was issued by a disgruntled colleague and the Novartis bottom line doesn't really determine NIH trial funding decisions. Did Novartis threaten to drop their $30M/free drug contribution to the US government's $55M investment? Why should Novartis' interests be the only priority here? Once the drug is off-patent, it would available for generic production and even more accessible to patients. Must we always look for financial "returns" to justify investment in medical research? Isn't improving human health enough of a payback? Maybe it's about time North American governments reclaim some capital from the private sector to support publicly-funded research that benefits human beings instead of accountants.