The misguidance of charities funding medical research

By Glen Wallace

In a Minneapolis Star Tribune article, hope is presented that activating a naturally occurring molecule found in cancer cells called p53 will provide hope that a cure for a wide range of cancers could be found.  The p53 molecule is inducing the desired result in cancer cells of a phenomena known as apoptosis, or programmed cell death.  A number of herbs have shown promise in inducing apoptosis but pharmaceutical companies are not interested in whole herbs because whole herbs cannot be patented.  If something cannot be patented then the drug company has no hope of reaping the monopoly profits from the drug once it is brought to market.  And the only reason a drug company is going to manufacture and sell a drug is if it is going to be profitable for the drug company. 

Also, lately I've been seeing these TV commercials where a women is yelling into a microphone, complaining about how there are all these cancer treatment research trials that have not happened because they went unfunded. She seems to be imploring people to both give more money to cancer research charities and also for everyone to spread the word out so everyone else also can start giving so that these trials can be funded and thus happen. But I think there are some unsafe assumptions built into the message being presented here. While there are many charities that are non-profit trying to raise money to find cures for cancer there is no such thing as a non-profit drug company that sells a cancer treatment.  Think about it -- where does a patient not in a research trial that is receiving drug treatment for cancer get those drugs from?  The patient buys those drugs from a for-profit drug company that decided it is in their best financial interests to sell those drug to patients.  But the non-profit charities continue to make the assumption that first, the drug companies will only look at the treatments with the best potential for a cure, and second, if a cure is found then the drug companies will automatically manufacture and sell the cure to patients.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  First, drug companies only spend money researching what they can hope to make a profit from and second, even if the research is very promising they will not manufacture and sell any drug at all, no matter how promising it is for the patient, if the drug company concludes they will not profit from the drug.  And in a mainstream medical setting,  if a drug is not being sold, then the patient will not  receive the drug. 

So when a charity says they are raising money for a cure, even if they have the best of intentions, what they really are doing is raising money to help the drug companies find their next money maker.  As a result, we can only hope and pray that a cure for cancer is found that is more profitable than the current chemotherapy treatment model -- because given how our current medical system is set up, that is our only hope for a cure in the FDA and AMA approved mainstream medical world.

Or, we can stop making the unsafe assumption that there is this great synergistic relationship between capitalism and good medicine.  If anyone in medicine were to step back and look at the medical field as a whole and apply just a little of the same scrutiny to the whole paradigm that they do to individual treatments, they would quickly discover that the current capitalistic model of medicine is inherently flawed.  A complete paradigm shift is needed where it will be the drug companies that have to hope and pray that the next treatment or cure will be profitable for them because the new system will put the patient rather than profits first.  But creating such a paradigm shift will not be easy.  There are many very powerful interests, including multinational pharmaceutical corporations, that are vested in maintaining the capitalism and medicine synergy illusion within the public consciousness.  But that illusion can be broken by persistently educating and spreading memes about the truth of the current flawed medical research and treatment paradigm.  The current system does not exist due to any law of physics but was rather created by fallible humans and as such we humans can change it for the better.   

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