Saturday, November 29, 2008

How Do You Separate Science and Pharma?

In his novel Arrowsmith, Sinclair Lewis' fallen hero, Professor Gottlieb has his groundbreaking work on bacteriophages sucked into the PR driven world of the pharmaceutical industry, breaking his spirit.  Recent revelations that many of our smartest researchers are profiting from their discoveries in ways that put children at risk (today's NY Times, "Expert or Shill?") shouldn't surprise us-  it is what happens when we allow profit to drive the system with little regard for clinical relevance.  The answer in the short term is more disclosure and more transparency (I can't make a move in medical education without filling out 10 disclosure affirmations, and I keep wondering why I have nothing to disclose), but the long term answer is to create an academic culture that is less dependent on the pharmaceutical industry for the funding of research.  In my ideal world, pharmaceutical research funding to academic institutions needs to go through the NIH, cannot have ANY input from the industry and the results of the work CANNOT be patented.  Without patents to protect, the system of pharmaceutical privilege collapses.  Then, we can get back to the "Prayer of the Scientist" articulated by Professor Gottleib (one of my favorite parts of the book):
'God give me unclouded eyes and freedom from haste. God give me a quiet and relentless anger against all pretence and all pretentious work and all work left slack and unfinished. God give me a restlessness whereby I may neither sleep nor accept praise till my observed results equal my calculated results or in pious glee I discover and assault my error. God give me strength not to trust to God!'
Science has become business;  we need to draw the line between them more firmly again.

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