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Thu Oct 23, 2014, 07:05 PM

The Free-Market Faerie Fails to Deliver . . . Again (Ebola edition)

(This is the text of a comment I posted to a front page article in today's New York Times, which is excerpted and linked below).

Mark Kessinger

This story is a perfect illustration of why free market fundamentalism -- the notion that markets alone can, and will, deliver the best solutions to any problem a society faces -- is sheer folly, and in some instances, such as this one, downright dangerous. Vigorous, hefty public investment in scientific research is absolutely essential if we expect the sciences to be proactive in finding solutions to many of the problems we face, particularly bio-medical ones.

In this case, there was no market -- hence no incentive -- to develop a particular product because the thing the product addressed (Ebola) was not seen as a major problem. The trouble, of course, is that there never would be any such demand until there was a crisis, and by that point (which happens to be now), we would be seriously behind the eight-ball.

To all those, on the other hand, who have been spinning in an irrational panic about Ebola, I respectfully suggest your efforts would be better spent -- and indeed, would be more effective in securing public health -- if you were to demand of your elected leaders that public investment in the kind of bio-medical R&D needed to address things lke Ebola be ramped up significantly.

Here is an excerpt of the article:

[font size=5]Without Lucrative Market, Potential Ebola Vaccine Was Shelved for Years[/font]


GALVESTON, Tex. — Almost a decade ago, scientists from Canada and the United States reported that they had created a vaccine that was 100 percent effective in protecting monkeys against the Ebola virus. The results were published in a respected journal, and health officials called them exciting. The researchers said tests in people might start within two years, and a product could potentially be ready for licensing by 2010 or 2011.

It never happened. The vaccine sat on a shelf. Only now is the vaccine undergoing the most basic safety tests in humans — with nearly 5,000 people dead from Ebola and an epidemic raging out of control in West Africa.

< . . . . >

Dr. James E. Crowe Jr., director of a vaccine research center at Vanderbilt University, said that academic researchers who develop a prototype drug or vaccine that works in animals often encountered a “biotech valley of death” in which no drug company would help them cross the finish line.

Up to that point, the research may have cost a few million dollars, but tests in humans and scaling up production can cost hundreds of millions, and bringing a new vaccine all the way to market typically costs $1 billion to $1.5 billion, Dr. Crowe said. “Who’s going to pay for that?” he asked.

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Reply The Free-Market Faerie Fails to Deliver . . . Again (Ebola edition) (Original post)
markpkessinger Oct 2014 OP
Travis_0004 Oct 2014 #1
markpkessinger Oct 2014 #2
lunasun Oct 2014 #3

Response to markpkessinger (Original post)

Thu Oct 23, 2014, 08:24 PM

1. Even if medical research was all done by the goverent we probably still wouldnt have a vaccine


As your article says it cost 1 to 1.5 billion to develop a vaccine.

Before this outbreak ebola had killed about 2500 people over 40 years. Even if government funded all research I find it difficult to think they would have funded ebola vaccines when it has killed so few people. Even the american government tends to focus on issues that affect its citizens. And one year ago if given the choice to spend 1 billion on an ebola vaccine or 1 billion extra on AIDS research I would assume congress would have overwhelmingly voted to spend the money on AIDS.

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Response to Travis_0004 (Reply #1)

Thu Oct 23, 2014, 08:33 PM

2. I would posit that a choice between funding a vaccine for AIDS and a vaccine for Ebola . . .

. . . is a false choice. There are plenty of other spending priorities that could be changed or altered to allow for funding of both.

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Response to markpkessinger (Reply #2)

Thu Oct 23, 2014, 09:36 PM

3. +1 for real

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