There is an interesting article from the Techdirt blog about “How patents skew medical research.” The blog post states “The monopoly power granted by patents pushes all research money into only things that can be patented, ignoring other possible cures, even if they can be both profitable and quite helpful.”
The post includes an example from the WSJ (“One Doctor’s Lonely Quest…“). Dr. Donald G. Stein found some evidence in the 1960s that the hormone progesterone help to heal brain injuries. Getting funding for more research to prove this finding was difficult. The WSJ writes:
Dr. Stein thought he had a big part of the answer to the question that had been vexing him for years. The medical establishment, however, largely shrugged off the results.
A naturally occurring hormone like progesterone, some forms of which have been available generically for infertility, is of little interest to drug makers. That’s because the substance probably can’t gain secure patent protection. That shut off a major avenue of potential funding for his research. “Big pharma likes more of an airtight protection,” says Todd Scherer, director of the Office of Technology Transfer at Emory, Dr. Stein’s current academic home.
For more information about patent protection, you can also read my review of Boldrin and Levine’s Against Intellectual Property book.