To the Editor:

In a time when billions across the globe — including some 40 million Americans — do not have access to affordable health care, I find it incredibly offensive to read something as grossly biased as David Gortler’s guest column (“The spread, and end, of life-saving drugs,” 10/24).

Gortler attempts to justify stalling the development of affordable generic drugs. His argument rests on the fact that a huge financial risk is involved in putting drugs on the market. Indeed, having worked at biotech companies, I have a fair understanding of the immense difficulty in developing and marketing drugs. However, I also strongly believe that current laws benefit private companies at the expense — financially and healthwise — of the general public.

In his effort to portray pharmaceutical companies as funding most of the research and development, Gortler fails to mention that government and nonprofit organizations essentially invest as much in the process. Yet in most cases, pharmaceutical companies profit from publicly funded research without having to return the favor. The company Celera Genomics charges a fee for access to its database on the complete human genome, but part of that data was produced by the public Human Genome Project.

Brand-name drug makers also suppress fair competition and prevent the selling of cheaper, quality generic drugs. The Federal Trade Commission recently found that under the current law, large drug companies can take advantage of 30 months of patent protection and file lawsuit after lawsuit for the same drug in order to avoid competition. Consequently, the big companies that can afford litigation essentially suppress the availability of cheaper generic drugs which, contrary to Gortler’s statement, is often of equal or even superior quality to that of the original.

What I find most upsetting is Gortler’s utter indifference to the benefit of allowing people access to generic drugs. How much profit is a multi-billion dollar company like Bristol-Meyers Squibb entitled to before the dying have access to affordable treatment? A mere nine months after the patent to an HIV drug called fluconazole expired, the price in Thailand fell from 200 bahts to 6.5 bahts. In the United States, the average cost per person last year for a drug was $72. The average cost of generic versions of the same drugs was less than $17.

New legislation should expedite the availability of affordable drugs that we, the general public, helped make possible in the first place. The McCain-Schumer Bill closes the loopholes that allow pharmaceutical companies to circumvent fair competition. They’ve had their turn at profiting from drugs. Now it’s ours.

Robert Su ’03

October 23, 2002