Joe Biden’s In Ur Science Lab, Makin ‘Cures

Last week, President Joe Biden announced that he would appoint Dr. Renee Wegrzyn to be the first director of a new federal agency, the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), which aims to do this for medical research. that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has made in the military technology that is also transcended in everyday life. DARPA projects brought us some little goodies like the internet and GPS, as well as the mRNA research that made COVID vaccines possible. (OK, DARPA also brought us killer drones and those weird robot dogs too.)

A White House statement found that Dr. Wegrzyn’s appointment came on the 60th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s “Moon Shot” speech and that ARPA-H is part of Biden’s “moon shot” initiative to “ending cancer as we know it”. ace New York Times columnist Ezra Klein, the idea behind the new agency is “doing something unusual in Washington: making big, risky bets.”


Klein notes that all of the administration’s big legislative successes – the American Rescue Plan, the Infrastructure Law, the CHIPs and Science Act, and the Climate Bill – provide oodles of government funding to encourage innovations such as development and vaccine distribution, the production of new microchips and artificial intelligence startups, broadband access and creative green energy initiatives that will help the United States reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by mid-century. ARPA-H is another of those efforts, this time aimed at medical research.

But wait, don’t we already have government-funded medical research and a lot? Klein explains that this is a bit of the problem: current agencies are so established that they have become the establishment, man.

Why do we need an ARPA-H when the National Institutes of Health already exists? Because the NIH, for all its rigor and wonders, is widely regarded as too cautious. The ARPA-H will be – in a somewhat whiny move – housed at the Institutes, but its explicit mandate is to take the kind of bets that Darpa takes, and the NIH sometimes lets go.

It sounds quite interesting, as long as the ARPA-H researchers at least swear not to meddle in God’s rule.

Linked to all of this is another goal: to reduce the costs of prescription drugs by having the government fund research into new drugs, which can then be used without the crazy top-ups that occur when large drug companies have the monopoly of drug patents. (Hi, insulin, we’re looking at you – and on the edge of the Inflation Reduction Act on copays for Medicare beneficiaries. Remember, guys, Republicans killed the effort to provide the same protections for everyone else.)

As economist Dean Baker at the Center for Economic and Policy Research argues, if the federal government pays for research that creates a new drug, then how about making sure that the benefits of that public investment actually reach the public, instead of giving pharmaceutical companies a monopoly on the products we have already paid for?

Klein cites an idea that Bernie Sanders used to advocate: Instead of granting a monopoly to companies that develop drugs, perhaps researchers competed for cash prizes for necessary innovations (an approach DARPA also uses for various technologies).

For example, the government could identify 12 conditions for which it wants to see a drug developed. The first group to develop and test such a drug would get a princely sum: $ 100 million, or $ 500 million, or a billion dollars, depending on the condition and effectiveness. In return, that drug would be immediately off-patent, available for production by any generic drug manufacturer for a pittance (and available to other countries, especially poor countries, for immediate production).

Baker says it sounds great to him, as long as such schemes don’t allow drug companies to get paid twice, as happened with Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine development:

[We] It paid Moderna $ 450 million to develop its coronavirus vaccine. We then paid an additional $ 450 million to cover the cost of the Phase 3 testing required for FDA approval. We then allowed him to claim the intellectual property of the vaccine, which meant tens of billions of dollars in revenue. He also led to the creation of at least five Moderna billionaires.

Instead of a rewards system, Baker suggests, it is better to exclude the average society and simply fund drug development directly and “require everything to be fully open source as quickly as possible under a direct funding system, allowing science to advance faster. “

In any case, we can discuss the best mechanism by which public funding, patent monopolies, premiums or direct funding can take place, but the idea that you only get paid once shouldn’t be controversial. […] There is a huge amount of money at stake on who gets the gains from innovation, probably more than $ 1 trillion a year, and it would be an incredible failure of the political process if the issue wasn’t even discussed.

This makes sense to us, even if there is a possibility that it could be socialism, which would leave Big Pharma so sad that it would simply stop developing medicine and no longer innovate, like in Communist France and Canada. We suspect they would have gotten away with it somehow, anyway.

[NYT / CEPR / Image generated by DreamStudio Lite AI]

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