Monday, October 06, 2014

Pharmaceutical prices, football, drug companies and a possible new role for universities

Football is a moneymaker for universities, no? 
Universities could create non-profit com-
petition for drug companies that would
help lower drug prices

But what does football have to do with scientific research or the advancement of knowledge in general – the reasons, presumably, for universities to exist?

Not a damn thing.

Meanwhile, earnings-hungry drug companies doing advanced research are literally bankrupting cancer patients who are faced with a choice that comes down to, “Your money or your life.”

When Leslie Stahl brought this home to 60 Minutes viewers on Sunday, she wasn’t revealing anything new. She was merely adding fresh emphasis to the horrid state of affairs that includes not only outrageous drug prices but also the power of the drug companies over Congress, which currently makes it illegal for Medicare to negotiate prices with insurance companies. 

When a drug company charges in excess of $100,000 to extend your life a month or more, even insured cancer victims end up paying staggering co-pays.

But there may be a stronger answer in the future than negotiation. It may veto create lower-cost, less greedy competitors to drug companies.

What if, instead of the hundreds of millions of dollars poured into football stadiums, perhaps with seed money from wealthy foundations universities put that kind of money into acquiring laboratories and researchers who would hunt for and test new drugs?

That’s a perfectly legitimate business for universities to be in. And nonprofit universities could be expected to use drug prices to pay back the price of their research and perhaps generate a little extra for their institutions – without charging the outrageous prices drug companies are getting.

The universities are also likelier to develop some new low-priced alternatives to medicine’s dwindling repertoire of effective antibiotics, to mention just one of the additional benefits.

You can expect the drug companies to bleat cries of self-pity over this, should it come to pass. Let me weep with them now: oh boo hoo. And yes, some universities will find greedy leaders who will want to overcharge as much as the pharmaceutical giants. But university overcharges threaten their non-profit status and could be controlled by reminding them of the trade off.

All the same, some additional cash from pharmaceutical royalties flowing to the universities could help stem the tide of endless tuition increases. It could create a resource on campuses for all sorts of student learning and work opportunities. It could add to the prestige of universities that sponsor such programs, especially when they yield valuable new drugs.

Yes, there are undoubtedly some institutions that will prefer to invest in football. That’s nothing new. 

But if you’re looking for a job (other than in coaching or sports marketing) would you rather say you went to a football school, or a scientific research school?

Just asking.

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