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When pharmaceutical companies search for a new drug, failure is normal, even after years of risky, expensive experimentation. So, sound the trumpets: Uncle Sam to the rescue with a new research center to help produce medicines! Why not? The Obama administration got in the automobile business, banking, even home weatherizing. Why not the drug industry?
Sadly, the plan to create a new National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) is a “near perfect example of how government failure (in the inaction of the Food and Drug Administration) leads to further government interference with markets.” In this case, “the market for new medicines,” said Reason.com in a Jan. 25 story.
After a rising level of research for many years, the number of new drugs to go on the market has slipped over the past 15 years. A major reason is the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) bureaucracy and its belabored approval process. More recently, the recession and fears that ObamaCare mandates could bring drug price controls, influenced drug companies’ cut back in research spending. But those are not excuses in President Obama’s impatient view.
“Since many companies do not invest in basic research that does not have an immediate pay-off,” said Obama in his budget message, “we—as a Nation—must devote our resources to these fundamental areas of scientific inquiry.” He specifically mentioned biomedicine.
Dr. Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health, criticized what he saw as declining drug industry research in a New York Times article in December. He said, “It certainly doesn’t show any signs of turning upward.” Collins seized the reins of the new drug center, with plans to open it as soon as this coming October. Collins also told The Times, “None of this is intended to be competitive with the private sector,” Oh, yeah? The center was reported by Merolic.com to invest a billion in basic research.
Collins, for many years, headed the Human Genome Project at NIH. Tens of billions of dollars were invested in it by the drug industry. Scientists believed they would find cures for cancer, HIV, and other diseases that plague humanity. But the industry looked askance at the promises and finally decided not to invest more money because there had been so many failures. A frustrated Collins decided to get the government involved, Metrolic.com reported.
The New York Times story said the NCATS “might need to discover not only the right chemicals but also to perform animal tests…and even start human trials to see whether they work. All of that has traditionally been done by drug companies, not the government.” Collins has indicated he is willing to “cannibalize” other parts of the NIH to bring more resources to the center.
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