Josef Stiglitz, on why drug patents are costing lives

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"Knowledge is like a candle, when one candle lights another it does not diminish its light.' In medicine, patents cost lives. The US patent for turmeric didn't stimulate research, and restricted access by the Indian poor who actually discovered it hundreds of years ago. 'These rights were intended to reduce access to generic medicines and they succeeded.' Billions of people, who live on $2-3 a day, could no longer afford the drugs they needed. Drug companies spend more on advertising and marketing than on research. A few scientists beat the human genome project and patented breast cancer genes; so now the cost of testing women for breast cancer is 'enormous." (


"The usual, if untenable, reason for granting patent monopolies is that excess revenue is spent on research for new drugs and that this stimulates further research and leads to more innovations. On the contrary, there is hardly any pharmaceutical company that spends more than 15% of its annual revenue on research. The rest goes to other things: advertising, marketing, lobbying, etc. Their research on diseases found in developing countries has always been insufficient. New drugs for the treatment of tropical diseases are rare and far between, and are often not the result of pharmaceutical industry research. Research is expensive and requires lots of money, no doubt. It takes resources to generate innovation. However, maintaining pharmaceutical patents is even more expensive. Like Belding Scribner’s shunt, innovation must address needs and reach the people who have those needs; otherwise it is not innovation.

What we need is a paradigm shift, a new way of organizing, promoting and financing research and innovation, one that would ensure an intercontinental balance of interests and research priorities." [1]