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<nettime> the drug of monopoly
McKenzie Wark on Thu, 25 Oct 2001 22:43:32 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> the drug of monopoly

Index to This Fabulous World / 25th October 2001

M is for Monopoly
McKenzie Wark

Drug companies profit by misfortune. Your disease and
suffering is their cash and carry. But as recent events make all to
clear, the drug business is really just a part of the intellectual
property business -- a post-capitalist business with peculiar laws
of its own.

The only drug approved in the United States for 'inhalation
Anthrax', the most dangerous form, is Cipro, made by Bayer
AG. Other drugs, penicillin and doxycycline, are known to be
effective against Anthrax, but nobody knows whether the
designers of 'weapons grade' Anthrax have bred strains
resistant to these longstanding cures. That leaves Bayer with a
cosy monopoly in the new bio-war economy.

It is unlikely that Bayer could produce enough Cipro in event
that -- heaven forefend -- there was a major Anthrax attack.
But Americans will not be getting ready access to the generic
substitute, ciprofloxacin, any time soon. Bayer's $93,000 in soft
money contributions to the Republic Party in 2000 has paid off,
bigtime. Secertary for Heath Tommy Thompson may have
bargained down the price the government will pay for Cipro to
less than $1 per tablet, but unlike the Canadian government, the
United States would not seriously consider breaking Bayer's
monopoly by setting aside its patent rights.

Given that the drug industry as a whole gave the Republicans
$10.3 million, and the Democrats $5.6 million in 2000 alone,
patent rights clearly have more friends in Washington than
patient rights. Despite its manifest inadequacies in meeting the
crisis, privatised intellectual property is too sacrosanct to touch.
The remedy Thompson and Bayer offer is neither cheap, nor
efficient; it is not enterprising and is a hell of a long way from
'free'. A product that can be easily made by many laboratories
for which there is ready demand ends up overpriced and under

The Anthrax by post threat has been good news for Bayer.
Bayer's share price languished below $25 before the Cipro boom,
and was up around $31 even after news broke of the $1 price
deal. Even if Washington obliges Bayer to lower its price, it
keeps its monopoly, and will probably do better on the price issue
with governments with less leverage.

Monopolies in intellectual property are very artificial things,
held together by a host of legal fictions and backed by the
authority of the state. By way of illustration, consider the day-
trippers to Mexico, who stock up on generic ciprofloxacin,
which can be readily bought over the counter in Mexican
pharmacies for a fraction of the price of Bayer-brand Cipro.
Given the quantities some Americans are buying down there, it
seems likely there is already a black market flourishing back in
America. A perverse result.

The drug companies claim that their state-sponsored patent
monopolies are necessary for them to recoup the development
costs of inventing and marketing new drugs. They argue that it
is in the public interest for them to do so. Where is the public
interest in the unnecessary suffering and death that results from
monopoly? The drug industry was forced to retreat on the issue
of AIDS drugs for the developing world, when some developing
world governments announced their intention to buy cheap
generic substitutes. The revelation of the staggering gap
between the price of the brand name drugs and the generics let
the whole world on just what a high price we all pay for
intellectual property monopolies. Patent is clearly not an
instrument functioning as it was intended, as a balance between
private incentive and public interest. But then this is no longert
an economy based on workers who make and sell things; its an
economy based on corporations owning information and
defending it with lawyers.

Greg Winter, 'Anthrax Drug a Top Seller in Mexico', New York
Times, 20th October 2001; Elisabeth Bumiller, 'Public Health or
Public Relations', 21st October 2001; Keith Bradsher With
Edmund L. Andrews, 'U.S. Says Bayer Will Cut Cost of Its
Anthrax Drug', New York Times, 24th October 2001.




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