Cory Doctorow excerpt and musings

In answer to a question posed by an interviewer at the end of a comic “Futuristic Tales of The Here and Now”

TW: 

Many people in your story suffer from a disease you term as “Zombiism.” Is this comparable to, say, the horrendously extreme amount of AIDS cases in Africa, a continent also rife with warfare?

CD: 

Yeah, and all the other diseases-like malaria, which kills one person every second-that our pharma companies can’t even be bothered with because boner-pills are so much more profitable. 
We grant global monopolies to these companies over the reproduction of chemical compounds. They argue that they need these patents because otherwise, no one would do the core research they do and we’d all be dead of disease without them.
But what do they spend their regulatory windfall on? Figuring out how to reformulate heartburn pills that are going public domain so that they can be re-patented, cheating the system and the world out of twenty more years of low-cost access to their magic potions; marketing budgets that beggar the imagination; lobbyists arguing for stricter rules. 
Meanwhile, people are actually dying, in great numbers, of diseases treatable by drugs that Roche and Pfizer and the rest of the dope-mafia won’t sell them at an accessible price, and won’t let them make themselves.

This reminds me, there were quite a number of people representing pharmaceutical interests at the Hong Kong Synthetic Biology 4.0 conference… The possibility of building or reconfiguring microbial organisms to produce noble chemicals is certainly an attractive prospect, and is fast becoming an industrially viable production method of rare chemicals. A case in point, recent iGEM 2008 competition’s winning entry was asynthetically designed vaccine against Halicobacter pylori which causes gastritis, built using immunobricks biological components designed in-house by undergraduates (albeit with support of graduate level faculty and facilities). The BioBricks foundation (upon which most of the synthetic biology practices today are based upon) runs on the principles of opensource like many of the server side technologies and programming languages in use today, and the possible social and economic ramifications of the growing field of synthetic biology is promising even at this early stage of development.

Are we seeing the beginning of the end for the workings of current generation pharmaceutical industry? Vaccinations and pills developed by relatively small scale biotech developers, perhaps even run by some of the poorer nations to counter against indigenous diseases? Perhaps in such a  universe, intellectual property rights can truly be something that protects the interests of the public instead of being a noose around their neck. 

I’ve been going through a number of Cory Doctorow’s works lately (thank goodness for DRM free ebook reader). He released a lot of his works under CC license to be available freely on the net, and I can’t recommend them highly enough. Visit his blog for a list.

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