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Comment Re:New = Outlandishly Expensive (Score 1) 345

Any blanket system that pretends to know what's safe and effective for all things of a class invariably fails with false negatives and false positives.

Placebo-controlled double-blinded trials are a fundamental concept of Western medicine and scientific investigation in general. Are you seriously arguing we should throw these out? I might as well go to a priest for my medical ailments - at least he isn't going to sell me something that might make me shit blood.

Comment Re:And the rest of the world? (Score 1) 345

No, all of these companies started in Europe. Of course they've expanded massively and bought up companies in the US, some of them relatively large - Roche swallowed Genentech whole, which was already a large and well-established (and very profitable) business. But Roche itself is a Swiss company. The one trying to do tax inversion is Pfizer, which is indeed a US company (that tried and failed to buy AstraZeneca recently - I forget who they're trying this with now).

Comment Re:Of course not (Score 1) 345

inexpensive drugs you take a few times and then are done with

For most conditions these are simply a fantasy. There are very few true "cures" in medicine, only varying degrees of palliatives. The idea that we'd all be living cancer-free to 150 years if only Big Pharma would focus on real cures is absolute nonsense, because it's extraordinarily difficult to make a drug that magically eradicates all traces of an ailment without severely damaging the host. People who think otherwise need to take a few biology courses.

Comment Re:New = Outlandishly Expensive (Score 2) 345

Because drugs have been patented and sold for obscene piles of money, the regulatory environment has "stepped up their game," in requiring newer drugs to prove their safety and efficacy with obscenely expensive testing protocols before coming to market.

The failure rate for Phase III clinical trials is somewhere between 25% and 50% - i.e. over half of the drugs that make it through Phases I and II are still not effective enough for regulatory approval. We can therefore reasonably assume that if we get rid of Phase III trials altogether to save Big Pharma some money, half of all new drugs will actually be useless. (Except it'll probably be even worse, because without the risk of Phase III failures - which are the worst nightmare of any sane pharma CEO - they will have less incentive to discard more marginal candidates.)

Comment Re:You must choose.... (Score 2) 345

But instead they spend money at cheap, incremental development

Except they don't. Big Pharma has sunk billions of dollars into developing drugs for Alzheimer's, which currently has no truly effective treatments, meaning they have to start from scratch. The failure rate is simply abysmal, so of course we're not seeing those drugs, but it's not for lack of effort.

Comment Re:You must choose.... (Score 3, Informative) 345

I only whine when the Feds do all the work, on our dime, yet we end up with a drug company getting all the profits.

This is rarely the case - only 25% of new drugs originate in (presumably federally-funded) academic labs, and even those have to go through a lengthy development process mostly paid for by companies.

Comment Re:Patent terms (Score 2) 345

The reason it is so profitable for companies to continue to sell old antibiotics is that the research and marketing is largely done. It' s pure profit with no additional investment. And there is no competition because they are protected by long patent terms.

I think the patent term is only 17 years or so - and pharmaceuticals tend to have a lengthy approval process, so it ends up being shorter. Basically anything invented in the mid-1990s or earlier is off-patent (with the caveat that use for specific indications may still be patented, but this doesn't prevent doctors from prescribing it "off-label"). Viagra, for instance, was introduced in 1998 and is now generic in much of the world, and you can get off-label generics in the US even though the patent applying to erectile dysfunction lasts until 2019. So, no, "old" antibiotics are not protected by long patent terms.

Comment Re:You must choose.... (Score 1) 345

Bullshit. Big Pharma regurgitates generics and those that fall out of patentville. The real research is done by universities around the world.

Only about 25% of new drugs start in university labs; the rest are developed by Big Pharma - or, frequently, the smaller companies they keep buying.

Comment Re:Really? (Score 1) 248

The worst example in the article: "the discovery of the structure of DNA depended heavily on X-ray crystallography of biological molecules, a technique developed in the wool industry to try to improve textiles." This is just fantasy. The wool industry did indeed perform such research many decades ago (just as the pharma industry uses crystallography to design better drugs), but the technique itself was developed entirely by (mostly British and German) academics working over many decades. Companies have had a very important role in developing the hardware used in these experiments, but the research directions have mostly tended to be driven by academia, with industry looking on from the sidelines. (Not that there's anything wrong with this: drug development is already slow and expensive.)

Another counter-example that he couldn't be bothered to mention: the CRISPr-CAS system, discovered accidentally by academics interested in bacterial immunity, and probably the most powerful new molecular biology technique of this century so far. Of course there's no reason why industry couldn't fund this research, but it's an esoteric scientific field that probably didn't seem very important or commercially valuable to anyone until this particular system was discovered. Sometimes the most interesting discoveries come from stumbling around blindly in the dark, something that commercial enterprises are usually poorly suited for.

Comment Re:Oh... (Score 1) 129

traffic optimization *is* hard

Veering off on a tangent here - is there a good introduction to this subject suitable for an advanced newcomer? I've been curious about this ever since I started driving on California freeways regularly in the last few years, and realized how poorly optimized many of the interchanges are for actual humans. (Anyone who has ever driven past Emeryville will know what I'm talking about.) I always pictured it as some kind of particle dynamics problem, except the particles are irrational, rage-filled morons.

Comment Re: good (Score 1) 76

University research has been corporate-funded for decades.

I don't know what other fields are like, but for biomedical research this is absolutely wrong. I worked for both public and private universities in the US for 15 years and the vast majority of scientists were getting the vast majority of their funding from the NIH, or maybe the NSF, plus a few big private foundations like HHMI. Funding from companies was not uncommon - in fact it paid my salary for a couple of years, thank you tech transfer department* - but for most researchers it was a fraction of whatever the government was giving them. (In the group where I was paid by corporate money, I was the only one, while another dozen people were paid by an NIH grant.)

(* actually, no. Working with companies as an academic can be an incredible pain in the ass and I didn't like our licensing policies anyway. And it certainly did skew our priorities somewhat, which was even more annoying. But we absolutely didn't need the money either.)

Building translators is good clean fun. -- T. Cheatham