January 20, 2016
Like your iPhone? Federal officials designed it. Couldn't live without the Internet? Thank Uncle Sam — he invented it. Sick and need new medicine? Don't worry — the government is here to help.
This fantastical line of thinking — that because the government funded basic, early-stage research, it can claim credit for a final product decades later — underpins the latest calls for more federal control of drug prices.
Such calls are grossly ill-informed and demonstrate a deep misunderstanding of the drug development process.
And if lawmakers listen to them, they could prove deadly.
Consider economist Mariana Mazzucato's claim that the federal National Institutes of Health do "most of the hard work" to develop new medicine.
Or listen to Hillary Clinton's promise that she'll require "pharmaceutical companies that benefit from federal support to . . . pay rebates to support basic research."
With rare exceptions, the NIH doesn't create new medicine. Nor does the government cut checks to pharmaceutical companies. Less than 10% of all new drugs — and less than 20% of the most innovative "priority-review" drugs — are patented by public-sector developers.