14 votes

Is AstraZeneca being treated fairly as a non-profit vaccine producer?

4 comments

  1. [4]
    Greg
    Link
    [...] I wouldn't have ever expected to find myself feeling sorry for a giant pharmaceutical conglomerate - and it may well be the case that this piece is just another bit of well executed PR - but...

    AstraZeneca has foregone over $20bn (£14.5bn) in revenue, while becoming a household name in the EU and the US for all the wrong reasons.

    Some investors have even questioned Pascal Soriot's position as chief executive.

    Astra has become a political football in a European blame game.

    One minute his compatriot, the French President Emmanuel Macron, is describing the vaccine as "quasi-ineffective", and the next, President Macron is volunteering to have the jab himself and backing a move to block exports outside the EU.

    [...]

    There was also widespread anti-Astra outrage when a raid on an Italian pharmaceutical plant discovered a stash of nearly 30 million vaccines - only for it to dissipate when the company said that 16 million of them were for EU use and the rest were headed for poorer countries under an EU-backed program called Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX).

    In the US, Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), accused AstraZeneca of "unforced errors", in failing to include the most recent data in its trial submissions to US authorities.

    I wouldn't have ever expected to find myself feeling sorry for a giant pharmaceutical conglomerate - and it may well be the case that this piece is just another bit of well executed PR - but the underlying points do seem fair.

    They've made a decision that seems to be genuinely altruistic, and an awful lot of negative stories have focused on them for reasons that turned out to be political point-scoring more than anything else. It doesn't seem a good way to incentivise altruism in the future, unfortunately.

    13 votes
    1. [3]
      vord
      Link Parent
      I can't believe I'm saying this, but AZ deserves huge props for trying to do what the others loudly claimed to be doing then quietly backed out of. We need to abolish all patent/copyright...

      I can't believe I'm saying this, but AZ deserves huge props for trying to do what the others loudly claimed to be doing then quietly backed out of.

      We need to abolish all patent/copyright protections for medicine. All of it. There's got to be a better way. It's not as if people don't want better medicine, so I have even more doubts about the 'but innovation will die' fearmongering than usual.

      13 votes
      1. [2]
        sleepydave
        Link Parent
        In an ideal world we wouldn't allow patents on anything considered necessary for human wellbeing, but it's very easy to say "We need to abolish ..." without providing a better alternative. As much...

        We need to abolish all patent/copyright protections for medicine.

        In an ideal world we wouldn't allow patents on anything considered necessary for human wellbeing, but it's very easy to say "We need to abolish ..." without providing a better alternative.

        It's not as if people don't want better medicine, so I have even more doubts about the 'but innovation will die' fearmongering than usual.

        As much as I hate to agree with a mentality that seems more conservative than anything else there is some truth to the 'innovation will slow' statement - much of the innovation in medicine/pharmaceuticals comes from the private sector. Since western economy is largely capitalist these companies need profitable incentive to keep doing what they do, and patents are what protects their IP from being cloned by anyone with a decent manufacturing/distribution plan. Otherwise their best bet would be to rely on charitable organisations, except that even those are built from capitalist stones. The Bill & Melinda Gates foundation exists because they made a killing in the computing sector and decided to spend their wealth in a way that benefits everyone out of good will.

        I guess this turned into another "this is why capitalism still exists" post :P But hey, if America decided to stop pissing away trillions into their military budget they'd be able to socialise healthcare, eliminate the homeless crisis and probably 30 other issues. Wishful thinking though.

        5 votes
        1. vord
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          I had specifically avoided it to avoid pedantic policy discussions, but here goes: Companies make drugs for profit, and yea that's one incentive. But that incentive trends more towards low-hanging...
          • Exemplary

          I had specifically avoided it to avoid pedantic policy discussions, but here goes:

          Companies make drugs for profit, and yea that's one incentive. But that incentive trends more towards low-hanging fruit and raises some problematic moral questions, as COVID is showing. If a company takes public funds to make a drug and get it released ASAP, why does the company get to profit from that development indefinitely? Why should a company get to pay-gate a lifesaving drug? Insulin for example is showing just how bad this system is, because the company can just jack up prices on a whim.

          While pharmacitical companies do make a lot of drugs, universities make disproportionately more novel ones.

          The only reason those numbers aren't higher for universities is due to funding, and that is an easily solved problem. Two ways come to mind immediately: R&D funding as part of a revamped public health system, and free college. They can do research, all viable drugs get put in public domain. Relegate the pharmacitical industry to purely manufacturing. They take the plans, they make the pills. They can compete on making the nicest, cheapest pills the quickest...not as monopolies of treatment options.

          Innovation does not need capital, or incentives, just reductions of capital barriers. Humans innovate all the time, because it is fun to innovate. Did we not invent things prior to the invention of money? How much innovation in the modern age was fueled by the byproducts of the government-funded and run space race, and not capital? The worst jobs I had were where change and innovation was discouraged or punished. Profit incentive is also a disincentive. You won't get funding to do things in a profit-driven system that are a net good if nobody thinks they will profit. Molten Salt Reactors were de-facto killed in the 1950's, despite superior safety, because they were slightly less efficient and couldn't be easily weaponized. Electric cars died a premature death despite being otherwise superior back in the early 1900's. Would we even have a climate crisis if we prioritized the nicer alternative over the cheaper, more profitable one?

          Medicine in particular will benefit from lack of profit motives, because people like being healthy and want to live longer. More effort could be expended on rare treatments that could have broader application later.

          Would advancement be slower? Maybe. But maybe that's also a good thing. Industry, in particular in the USA, has been keen to make a quick profit on a new innovation and ignore the ramifications. Sometimes even suppressing evidence of those ramifications to continue making profit longer. DEET, single-use plastics, CFCs, asbestos, leaded gas/paint, and PFAS are just a small sample of stuff that was rolled out quick and turned out to be utterly disasterous. Let alone the entirety of the fossil fuel industry.

          Late Edit: Open Source addendum

          Open source is almost entirely sustained by innovative passion and not money. While there's plenty of big-profile, moneymaking projects, there's infinitely more small projects that are just single/small devs scratching a particular itch, innovating for the sake of innovation. If you ever think "hmm, I wonder if my computer can do X?", there's a decent chance someone will have done something in that vein, or you'll be the first and others might build/use it and love that you've done so. Free software is one of the first to demonstrate what a post-scarcity, non-capital economy will provide.

          12 votes