Episode 1. Thomas Pogge on Pharmaceutical Innovation

In our first episode, Thomas Pogge explains his proposal for dealing with the thorny intersection of public health, property rights, and poverty. As he sees it, the patent system doesn’t work as well for medicines as it does for, say, consumer electronics. Allowing an inventor a monopoly over her invention works well enough when that invention isn’t a life necessity. Sony and its collaborators can sink enormous funds into researching Blu-Ray discs because they expect consumers will pay for them. And Pfizer can spend a fortune creating Viagra, because it expects, rightly, that there’s a huge demand for that product.

But this kind of economic demand can deviate from social value when it comes to life-saving medications. An affliction like Chagas’ disease that is widespread in Central and South America, but relatively rare in North America, doesn’t generate the kind of worldwide economic demand that erectile dysfunction does, simply because its sufferers don’t have as much ability to pay. The aggregate economic demand for drugs to fight Chagas’ disease, or tuberculosis or malaria, isn’t sufficient to motivate firms to splash out on R&D.

Pogge is working feverishly to rectify this situation. He proposes a Health Impact Fund, which would allow anyone to register a drug for an effectiveness-based award in exchange for giving up monopoly profits. I’ll let him explain the details. You can listen to the show directly by clicking on the at the bottom of this post, or by subscribing to our podcast, which is linked to in the right-hand column.

Thomas Pogge is Professorial Fellow, Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE); Professor, Yale University Philosophy Department; and Research Director, Oslo Centre for the Study of Mind in Nature (CSMN). You can find more details about the Health Impact Fund at www.healthimpactfund.org. More information about Thomas Pogge is available at his Yale website: http://pantheon.yale.edu/~tp4/.

Click here to download (29:01, 29 mb, mp3), or click on the online media player below.


Filed under Episodes

8 responses to “Episode 1. Thomas Pogge on Pharmaceutical Innovation

  1. 1sts ^.^
    would that be the field’s ‘over the ice’ in the opening? nice. typo in first sentence of third paragraph tho. perfect timing, as i just got an iphone, so i can listen to your podcast on the go, instead of from home like a chump. keep up the good work!

  2. Matt

    Thanks, Alexei. Yes, it’s the Field, but the track is actually “A Paw in My Face,” the second one off of that album. Good ear in any case.

    (And it took me three reads to find that typo!)

  3. Christer

    Odd that the PR effect isn’t mentioned as a motivator – I’d imagine medicine in general is a field where doing the right thing can be good for your reputation:)

  4. Matt


    You’re right on the money that in this field, doing good can make you look good. To be fair to Thomas, he did actually discuss the PR issue in our original interview, but we had to edit some segments out due to time constraints. He’s very conscious that the pharmaceutical firms that are targeted by the proposal are concerned about their negative public image and would love to improve it. So the Health Impact Fund, if enacted, would be a great PR boon to those firms. But what’s so clever about the proposal is that it acknowledges this motivation and tries to harness it by aligning moral and financial incentives.

    Thomas makes a comment at the very tail end of the episode that captures this very neatly. Speaking of a hypothetical pot of money to spend on public health projects, he comments: “In order to get that pot of money, one has to make a proposal of spending it in a way that mobilizes at least some of the rich and mighty in support of the project.”

  5. Pingback: Making New Medicines Accessible to All « Ending World Poverty

  6. Rosa

    Hi guys! so cool this webpage idea😉

  7. Regarding the PR issues – I totally agree with the point raised. However, after having worked in the pharmaceutical industry for over a decade – I’d have to say that money is often the largest motivator, especially in the medical trials field.

    That said – now and again an I met a number of individuals who truly strived to do good. In many ways they were often pushed aside, but their seemingly unending passion got them through where many would have given up.

  8. Pingback: Episode 14. Matthew Rimmer on Intellectual Property and Clean Technologies « Public Ethics Radio

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