Intended for healthcare professionals


Scrooge and intellectual property rights

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 21 December 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:1279

Do we really need any new drugs?

My congratulations to Joseph Stiglitz on well written, provocative

At the risk of sounding reactionary, I would like to go one step
further and propose that we abolish the development of all new drugs on
the grounds that they are extremely expensive and take money out of the
health service.

The health of the nation (and indeed of the world) would be better
served, I believe, if we concentrated on treating patients effectively
with the agents that we already have at our disposal than by the constant
development of new drugs. Whilst costly new drugs may benefit some
patients, I strongly suspect that they also deprive other patients of
effective, but less spectacular, treatments by eating into limited health
budgets. In other words, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, new drugs rob
Peter to pay Paul, and therefore get the wholehearted support of Paul.

The alternative proposal would be that the costs of new drugs are
regulated in such a way that they have a zero impact on health budgets and
a proven net benefit on the health of the nation. This proposal is
probably unworkable because it requires a degree of altruism on the part
of those who produce our drugs.

But if we continue with the present system, in which people are
paying thousands of dollars for medications which cost only a few dollars
to produce, I suspect our collective health services will find themselves
bankrupt within a decade or two.

How do we meet the challenge?

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

28 December 2006
William H Konarzewski
Consultant Anaesthetist
Colchester General Hospital, CO4 5JL