Not sure why I saw this on The Consumerist, but the topic is ripe for front page news. It seems the federal chief of AIDS research is on record saying that any HIV vaccine will not be made by a pharmaceutical company because there’s no financial incentive for them to develop such a drug. OK, fair point. The last I checked, Pfizer, Sandoz, Merck and the others were in business to make profit (remember that capitalism thing we learned about back in school?). That is what they do. And, given the sorry reality of lobbying and influence peddling that has unfortunately become the norm in the pharma industry, we might as well throw the FDA into the for-profit discussion.
However, I think the FDA, universities and Gates Foundations of the world have an opportunity to change the way drugs with no commercial profit potential are developed: Follow the open source model that has shaken the technology industry at its core.
Think about it. The open source movement in the technology industry was fueled by a passion to put power back in the users’ hands. It was built on a belief that communities of developers could re-design, re-build and repair software based on the needs of the community, not the financial needs of a single company. It changed the way companies looked at their information technology infrastructures.
I was at a client seminar a couple of weeks ago and heard a speaker — the chief information architect for a non-profit health organization — say emphatically that they would not be able to do as much as they are currently able if they had to rely solely on commercial software. The funding just wouldn’t allow it. So he mixed some open source technology into his infrastructure to plug the funding gaps.
The federal chief of AIDS research’s comments highlight the funding gaps society today has in the world of medicine. The system — as philanthropic as we want it to be — is a system based on profit, not philanthropy. A smart pharmaceutical company that understands that corporate reputation and societal contributions are as important to the bottom line as selling billions of pills each quarter will understand the opportunity. That company will establish a global research and development infrastructure for drugs and vaccines modeled after the innovation eminating from the open source community in Silicon Valley. They will call on world leaders — people like President Clinton, President Carter, Bill and Melinda Gates, Bono and others — to lead this community-based movement. They will use their immense lobbying power to enlist the FDA to create a dedicated safety review board for community-based pharmaceuticals.
Is there a pharmaceutical company that has the corporate guts to take this on? Use the comments section to let me know your thoughts.