BMJ 1995; 310 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.310.6980.680 (Published 11 March 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;310:680

Many of the top scientists concerned with the identification and investigation of the breast cancer gene BRCA1 have joined a group called the International BRCA Consortium and are freely sharing data and laboratory materials (Science 1995;267:1086). This move signals their disenchantment with efforts made by some teams to take out patents on their discoveries. Nevertheless, patents are being taken out and marketing agreements made: vast sums of money will eventually be earned. Fifty odd years ago the team that developed penicillin decided not to apply for any patents, believing that its discoveries should be made freely available to the world.

Manufacturers of modern drugs are quick to point to the vast costs of developing and testing new agents. A review in “Psychopharmacology: the Fourth Generation of Progress” (New York: Raven Press, 1995) quotes the costs of developing a new psychotropic drug in the United States in the early 1970s as $121m; by the early 1980s this had risen to $279m (both figures converted to 1992 dollars). There is no indication that the increase in development costs has come to an end.

Many university teachers believe (though few will openly say) that public health has no place in undergraduate medical education (Journal …

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