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There are many reasons why anyone paying attention and not afflicted with sociopathic lack of empathy for the suffering of others would be elated by President Obama's first month and a half in office. Well, here's one more big one. While Bush piled up corpses, Obama works to bring life-saving medicines and procedures to the poorest among us.

Join me below the jump to see how.

Galaxo Smith Kline has announced that it will open up access to patents for molecules that can ameliorate neglected diseases and reduce the price of medicines for the poorest countries by a minimum of 75%.  They also are asking other companies to join it to create a pool of patented substances and processes which anyone can use if they pay a royalty to create medicines to treat neglected tropical diseases (neglected because the people who generally suffer from these diseases can't pay).

While certainly laudable, this is also an act of adjusting to the exigencies of the times. There is a move afoot to decouple R&D costs from the price of medicines. And now Obama's FDA is making it worth their while:

In July UNITAID, a club of countries formed in 2006 to buy drugs for the poor, proposed a patent pool that would allow drug companies to make patented drugs available to poor countries at low prices while still selling them at high prices elsewhere. And this year, the US Food and Drug Administration will start awarding "priority review vouchers" (PRVs) - fast-track licensing in the US - to any company that invents a drug for one of 16 neglected diseases. This is a "prize" worth having: PRVs allow a company to market a lucrative new drug a year earlier than under normal FDA review. The vouchers can also be sold, for upwards of $300 million.

That's the carrot. But there's also a stick:

Pharmaceutical companies know something has to give. President Barack Obama has called for "humanitarian licensing policies that ensure medications developed with US taxpayer dollars are available off-patent in developing countries". He has the legal right to "march in" on any patented drug developed partly with US research money, and license it to others if the patent holder is not making fair use of it.

The companies will resist that. But it seems they are beginning to accept that the patent system has to change so that it can do what it was always supposed to: promote lifesaving drugs for all.

Indeed. The pharmaceutical patenting system has run amok and has become decoupled from its primary mission, and now Obama is working to right it.

Monday, he reverses the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Every day, there's something new that he's done that raises my spirits. This is the essence of an enlightened leader.

Originally posted to eyeswideopen on Fri Mar 06, 2009 at 05:29 PM PST.

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