Thursday, April 22, 2010

Obligations associated with publicly funded research

When I was reading this Effect Measure post, I was reminded of the on-going effort to make all federally funded research available to the public.

I certainly believe that research funded by the public should be considered property of the public.  In fact, I think this should also apply to patents.  If public funds are used to discover a novel therapeutic or diagnostic, then I don't think that product should be subject to considerable mark-up to recover research costs since the public has already paid for the initial investment and has had to pay the costs for all the biomedical research that did not bring new products to the market.  I think a similar logic should apply to discoveries that are made using funds from non-profit organizations (such as March of Dimes, etc.).

Of course, there is going to be a messy gray area where part of the discovery was made using public funds (perhaps the discovery of a genetic association, for example) while some of the funding was provided through private means (a potential example might be the costs of clinical trails).  I should also make clear that I'm not against the use of patents - I just think that we need to make sure that the public is not being double charged for research costs.  Perhaps this could be implemented by setting a cap at the percentage of price that is allowed to go towards profits for any product directly resulting from research that was conducted using public or non-profit funds.  I think this is a moral obligation of scientists, and I think this could help limit the escalating costs of health care.

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