Economics of medicine

Recently I was reading an article in Aeon Magazine about the challenges faced by the medicine industry – commonly referred to as Big Pharma or Big Pharma written in one of those fonts with blood dripping from it and a syringe being stabbed into a baby. One of the big changes in medicine development discussed was the patent period that allowed monopolies on new drugs, which in turn saw orphan drugs – not drugs for Oliver “please sir, can I have some more” Twist, but drugs for rarer conditions and illnesses – become more popular/profitable to develop.

It’s an interesting issue and the article is worth reading. But it got me to thinking about something a little tangential. No, not whether Oliver Twist needs a remake set in south-east Asian sweatshops. I wondered how much money is actually spent on things.

Take for example this:

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Source.

Drug development appears to take a backseat to marketing. But this depends on what section of the market, how big the company is, and other factors. Clearly, medicine development is still a big expense, but how much is spent on research and development overall?

Worldwide pharma R&D $
Total global pharmaceutical research and development spending from 2008 to 2022 (in billions of U.S. dollars) Source.

That global pharmaceutical research spending is quite large at $165 billion. Or is it?

Rank Country Spending
($ Bn.)
% of GDP % of World share
World total 1,739 2.2
1 United States United States 610.0 3.1 35.0
2 China People’s Republic of China 228.0 1.9 13.0
3 Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia 69.4 10 4.0
4 Russia Russia 66.3 4.3 3.8
5 India India 63.9 2.5 3.7
6 France France 57.8 2.3 3.3
7 United Kingdom United Kingdom 47.2 1.8 2.7
8 Japan Japan 45.4 0.9 2.6
9 Germany Germany 44.3 1.2 2.5
10 South Korea South Korea 39.2 2.6 2.3
11 Brazil Brazil 29.3 1.4 1.7
12 Italy Italy 29.2 1.7 1.7
13 Australia Australia 27.5 2.0 1.6
14 Canada Canada 20.6 1.3 1.2
15 Turkey Turkey 18.2 2.2 1.0  sourceoriginal

Suddenly the amount spent on medicine research and development seems rather small. The USA government alone could easily cover the expense of medicine research if it decided to change priorities, since it spends 3.7 times that much on defence.*

Would it be a good idea for governments to have a Department of Pharmaceuticals that researched, developed, and sold medicines? Would that be money better spent than stockpiling tanks in a desert? Certainly, it would address several of the issues raised in the Aeon Magazine article around how the profitability of drugs, rather than the consumer needs, drives research and development.

This sort of thinking could be applied to many industries. The reality is that there isn’t actually a shortage of money but a lack of incentive to invest money in some areas in favour of others. The solution doesn’t have to be the government taking over, nor does it have to be about private companies not being profitable. But maybe it does have to be about rethinking what we spend money on.

Richard Denniss made similar arguments in his Quarterly Essay Dead Right about the Australian economy.

So maybe it is time to stop accepting the argument “we can’t afford X” and start having the discussion about how we spend for the most good. Or not, I’m not your boss.

*To be clear, I’m not suggesting we stop all spending on something like defense, or that there aren’t reasons for spending money on things like tanks. But as Richard’s video suggests, we are making value judgments and assumptions without really questioning them.

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Book review: Astrophyics for people in a hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Astrophysics for People in a HurryAstrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oppose the gravitational force with your phalanges if you value science.

Science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson understands that most people don’t have time to read physics books – plus they are hard work to read. So he decided to package together some of his essays into a book that covers the major aspects of astrophysics in a way anyone could enjoy and learn from.

While reading this book I had a revelation. Could there be an explanation other than Dark Matter and Dark Energy for the gravity and expansion of the universe?

I’m going to propose Pratchett’s Theorem as an alternate hypothesis for the expansion of the universe and gravity. Since the universe is flat and there are unexplained gravity and expansion, I postulate that this flat universe is riding on the backs of four large elephants. This explains the gravity pulling everything down. These elephants are riding on the back of a large turtle who swims through the multiverse. The elephants are slowly moving away from one another – which explains the expansion – and walking down the curved shell of the turtle such that each step is larger than the last – which explains the increased speed of expansion.

This, of course, raises the questions of whether it was the elephants who were the prime movers behind the “Big Bang”, whether the elephants will keep walking down the shell until they fall off tearing the universe to shreds, or whether the elephants will eventually decide to walk back toward one another for a reunion? Do they also walk directly away from one another, or do they walk around the shell, such that the universe rotates? Given everything within the universe rotates, it would only make sense that this rotation is caused by the elephant’s motion.

Anyway, NDGT’s book was a good read. It doesn’t dumb things down, nor use too many lay terms, which was refreshing. But as a scientist, albeit in a completely different field, it felt like the book was aimed at a more general audience, particularly those who aren’t familiar with many of the topics discussed. Which made it only a good but not a great read for me.

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Writer Advice: Alcoholism

ice-tea
Ice Tea or Whisky? Your friends won’t know either, and after the first four, you won’t notice the lemon ruining the flavour.

Tip #1: Ice Tea looks just like whisky.

Do you need to hide just how much you are drinking from friends and family but can’t bring yourself to drink gin or vodka? Then “Ice Tea” might be your new preferred drink.

Tip #2: As long as you drink wine from a glass people will assume you are a connoisseur.

Wine is regarded as a classy drink, so as long as you drink it in a classy way, few will notice that some glasses can fit an entire bottle in them.

Tip #3: Don’t use crystal decanters.

Crystal decanters may look classy but they are expensive and are slowly giving you lead poisoning. Instead, just rub the label off of one of your bottles. A cheap and easy solution that won’t be poisoning you.

Tip #4: Wine and Whisky Clubs are your friends.

Even if no-one else loves you, subscription wine and whisky clubs love sending you a new supply of alcohol direct to your house. There is no longer a need to be reminded just how much you hate the rest of the world by having to venture out to the liquor store when home delivery is now a reality.

Tip #5: These lists always need to be five or ten items long.

Seriously, have you ever noticed that? Never four or seven, always five or ten. Sometimes if people are feeling keen, or have an auto-amalgamating post generator, they will stretch to twenty or thirty. Magazines used to do fifty and one hundred lists. Remember that? Of course, no one really cared to read the whole list. Usually, you’d just scan through for things that would catch your attention and then make note of the number one spot. And then write a comment arguing how the list was rubbish.

My Fellowship at KSP

 

IMG_0836
A room for writing.

It feels like only yesterday, but it’s actually just over a week since I finished my Fellowship at the KSP Writers’ Centre. What’s a Fellowship? I hear you ask. Actually, I didn’t hear you, but I do hear voices in my head – no, I have an adequate sufficiency of matches, so be quiet. Anyway, I applied for a writing retreat to focus on (finishing….) my novel Evil Corp. Twelve-and-a-half days to do nothing but writing in a purpose built hut.

The writing huts are modeled after Katharine Susannah Pritchard’s own writing retreat and are very much focussed on having a room to write in. Your desk faces out onto the garden – I had a view of a gum tree with a beehive in its trunk – you have amenities for snacks and drinks, a chair for quiet contemplation, and a bed for… well, you know what beds can be used for.

IMG_0838
I had a whiteboard… which I didn’t end up using. And a giant pencil… which I also didn’t use.

The hut was quiet and felt ideally suited to writing. Or painting. Or reading. Or slowly going mad and deciding to live like a hermit. All good options.

IMG_0837
Yes, I brought a guitar.

The best feature was definitely the lack of adjoining accommodation for young children, who slowly steal your hopes and dreams as they consume more of your life than you’d ever imagine, such that you wake up at 40 wondering why you haven’t published a novel yet.

IMG_0835
Welcome Pack: Welcome letter, KSP sticker, KSP Fellow card, CHOCOLATE!

With the welcome letter in hand, my computer set up, I was ready to right write!

Getting my author on

Reading Anne's story at KSP Open day 2018
Not sure if I made this picture blurry by drinking too much caffeine, or if it was the wrong lighting for the camera to focus.

For my stay at KSP I had set a few hard and soft goals. Hard goals were things like: relax and enjoy being able to pursue my hobby uninterrupted for a fortnight; not wake up at 5am because my kids weren’t going to be there; refrain from buying a beret and neck-scarf; write more than 1,000 words per day. Soft goals were things like: wake up before noon; eat properly; get some exercise; try not to feel guilty about leaving my wife alone with our kids; write 20,000 words during my stay. Try to guess which goals I achieved.

I didn’t want to place too much pressure on myself to, say, “finish my novel” or “write 5,000 words a day”, because that would have sucked the fun out of the Fellowship. Having previously won NaNoWriMo, I knew I could write 2,000 words a day for a sustained period, but I was surprised at how having more time to write didn’t necessarily increase output. I’m going to claim that it was higher quality than NaNoWriMo writing though. A low bar I’m willing to jump over. But I did manage to write 20,000 words, do some plotting, create a few characters, outline several chapters for the future, review a couple of books, and come up with two plots for other projects, so it felt productive.

On the first weekend of my Fellowship the KSP Writers’ Centre held their open day. It was a fun event and well attended despite the threats of rain. As the above photo shows, I was asked to do a reading for the event on behalf of one of my writing groups. I read Werespoon by my fellow Fantasy Sci-Fi Horror group author Anne Forbes. Gillian Clarke read on behalf of my other author group, the Thursday Night group.

Another thing that made me feel authorly was mingling with other authors.

Surrounded by other authors

Me Kaaron Warren and Rachel Mead
Rachael Mead, Kaaron Warren, me being told to smile more.

Writing is generally regarded as a lonely occupation. Well, unless you take your laptop to a coffee shop so you can tell anyone who has the misfortune of coming too close that you’re an author and that sitting in a coffee shop telling people about your WIP counts as writing. The KSP cabins were decidedly setup for writing. On your own. Uninterrupted. I brought a guitar. But I still managed to hang out with other authors.

Kaaron Warren and Rachael Mead were also at KSP doing a Residency and Fellowship respectively. Kaaron has been publishing stories since before I’d figured out Coco-Pops didn’t need extra sugar. She was shortlisted for an Australian Shadow Award while she was in residence, and just last week released Tide Of Stone. One evening we were discussing awards (she is a judge for the World Fantasy Awards this year) and she casually mentioned being beaten by luminaries Stephen King and KJ Parker… I’m not sure that counts as losing.

Rachael has a PhD in creative writing and, like Kaaron, an impressive list of awards to her name. She has published multiple poetry collections, including one that came out earlier this year, and regularly contributes arts reviews to magazines. She also writes short stories and was working on what appears to have become a collection themed around paramedics during her time at KSP.

Which made me the bumbling rookie trying not to sound like an amateur around the two pros.

It was invaluable to chat with them over dinner, or at drink-o-clock, or at procrastination time. For example, Rachael helped me with a chapter I was headed in the wrong direction with. But it was also good just to be able to have a chat and socialise, including catching up with an old friend who is a mutual friend of Kaaron’s. If that wasn’t enough wordsmiths to hang out with, we also had a lovely dinner out with some other KSP Fellows. See the blurry photo below that proves kids aren’t necessarily good with technology.

2018-05-10 20.10.41
Dinner with some other KSP Fellows.

Summary

It was great to have the opportunity to feel like a writer and make some progress on (one of) my works in progress. I met some lovely people, got some writing done, and didn’t get woken up by a toddler wanting to find the teddy that is lying right next to them in bed even once. I very much appreciate the board and staff at the KSP Writers’ Centre for awarding me the Fellowship.

How can someone from Australia, get into an American University such as Harvard?

Widener Library, Harvard University
Widener Library, Harvard University

Australians have a proud history as the descendants of convicts. As such, there is no place we can’t break into if we so desire.

The first thing is the loooonnngg plane ride from Australia to the US. Due to US Customs, it is advisable not to bring your B&E equipment with you but rather acquire it from those new-world criminals in the USA.

The second thing is staking out the campus. Surveillance is the key to any decent break-in. You will need good notes from your observations to use in the next step.

The third thing is to have a plan for your break-in. Know your target, ingress point, egress point, contingencies, and make sure you have a cover identity setup just in case things go south.

The final point is to make sure your risk:reward ratio is balanced enough to make the operation worth it. There is nothing worse than putting the time and front money in place for low returns, especially if the penalties are high.

Of course, you could just send in an application to Harvard like every other Aussie student who applies to US universities. Maybe the ex-Harvard Student Association in Australia could be of help.

This post originally appeared on Quora.

 

What is the name of a kangaroo’s child?

No_Problem_Mate

Kangaroo names really depends upon the mother kangaroo. Mother kangaroos (does or jills) are known to choose names for their joeys based upon:

  • traditional family names
  • popular movie character names
  • favourite fictional characters – typically from movies, but also books

Some of the less common ways jills will choose joey names are:

  • Pick up on joey’s cues (leads to a lot of joeys being called Kick and Jump)
  • Go to the bookshop and pick a random name from a random book (although kangaroos aren’t generally allowed in bookstores due to their habit of browsing and not buying anything)
  • Ask the joey (given kangaroos can’t talk I’m not sure this helps)
  • Name associations (for kangaroos who like word games)
  • Get your other joeys to decide (hard if this is the jills’ first joey)
  • Pull the name out of a hat (although kangaroos don’t wear hats)
  • Meaningful moments (which leads to names like Hop Away From Hunter, and Juicy Leaves).

Some rules jills generally abide by in naming:

  • no names of former girlfriends or boyfriends
  • no names used for pets (not that kangaroos have a lot of pets)
  • no names already used by friends or colleagues (they are often in mobs, so best not to double up on names).

Hope this helps.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Yep. Someone used Quora instead of Google for this. They are probably registered to vote too. Just think about that.

KSP Writer’s Fellowship

The Katherine Susannah Pritchard Writers’ Centre have announced their Writers-in-Residence and Fellows for 2018. I’ve been awarded a Fellowship to work on a satirical novel titled Evil Corp.

image

This will be a wonderful opportunity to have time and space to write. Here’s the blurb for the story:

Evil-Corp

Here at Evil Corp we have been successfully carving a path toward world domination for 15 years. With our dedicated staff we want to have you serve our every whim.

Your family deserves the security and friendly authoritarian rule that you could expect from an organisation like Evil Corp, but with the personal touches that only a caring and understanding community minded team can offer.

Have you bowed down to Evil Corp?

Update: The list of residencies and dates with author profiles are now available. I’m afraid it appears I’m the only one who didn’t take their profile seriously.