A searing look at the medical-industrial complex and its ability to patent genes and other biological products, resulting in an opportunistic and powerful pharmaceutical industry that often ignores the most pressing global-health issues in order to make a profit.
National Book Critics Circle Award winner Washington (Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, 2007, etc.) begins with the controversial 1980 Bayh-Dole Act, which allowed the commercialization of medical inventions based on government-funded patents, including those on living things. As a result, an unprecedented collusion between universities, researchers and private pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies spawned an era in which many vital medicines are too expensive or inaccessible to average consumers, or rushed to market before being adequately tested. Despite the fact that taxpayers largely fund medical research and development, pharma companies include that cost in their purported expenses, therefore using disingenuous figures to justify the skyrocketing costs of patented drugs. The author adeptly details the wide-ranging repercussions of this monopolistic research model and recounts chilling anecdotes that reveal a pattern of shady practices by biotech and pharma companies. These firms often display a lack of respect for patients' rights in a ruthless pursuit of "blockbuster" drugs without regard for helping those who need it most. As of 2009, only 10 percent of the more than $70 billion spent per year on medical research addresses “diseases that cause 90 percent of the world's health burden.” In addition, minorities and poor populations are often exploited for their genetic material yet not compensated for their contribution. Thousands of people die from preventable causes simply because it's not profitable to save them. The author clearly presents data to elucidate these complex issues, and cogently argues that there are opportunities to reinstate transparency, collaboration and altruism in drug development and disbursement.
A gripping, revelatory account.