Conventional wisdom insists that patents are necessary for new drug innovation. Some of those drugs – such as Avastin for breast cancer – feature exceedingly high prices and very modest clinical effects.
But according to a study just published in the Lancet, we now have a very powerful cancer prevention drug, available without a patent and at exceedingly low cost:
“Daily aspirin reduced deaths due to several common cancers during and after the trials. Benefit increased with duration of treatment and was consistent across the different study populations. These findings have implications for guidelines on use of aspirin and for understanding of carcinogenesis and its susceptibility to drug intervention.”
The study found statistically significant reductions in death (not just “progression”) in the following cancers: gastrointestinal, oesophageal, pancreatic, brain, lung, stomach, colorectal, and prostate. For lung and oesophageal cancers, the benefits were limited to adenocarcinomas, but with a hazard ratio of 0.66 (p<0.0001).
The study was unfunded, but several of the authors are UK academics associated with Oxford.
Bottom line: the patent system isn’t the only mechanism for funding drug development. Prizes and public funding can also work, without the access related issues created by high drug prices.