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Patently unfair: On the need for more equitable drug pricing

For this Humanosphere podcast, we are talking to James (aka Jamie) Love, director of an organization that works for social justice and equity in the realm of intellectual property – patents, copyrights and those sorts of things. The organization Love runs, based in DC, has the somewhat inscrutable name of Knowledge Ecology International and it has long been a leader in advocating behind the scenes on behalf of the public’s interest in this very complex realm.

James Love

James Love

So what does this wonky stuff have to do with fighting poverty and inequity, fighting for social justice, reducing death and disease in poor countries? Turns out, intellectual property, patent law and our trade agreements have quite a lot to do with the humanitarian cause – and we think the topic deserves much more public attention than it usually gets in this time of fast-paced, attention-deficit-disordered news. We focus on the stunning increase in drug prices, which is threatening access to life-saving drugs in rich countries as well as poorer ones. In India, this week, the government rejected Gilead’s patent on its hepatitis C drug, which costs $1000 per day in the US. Love, whose wife has cancer, is dealing with this on both the personal and professional level. The drug patent system is broken, he says, and needs radical reform – an idea once scoffed at but which he believes is now catching on around the world.

It’s perhaps worth noting that Love is originally from the Seattle area – his father was the first mayor of Bellevue – and some of his previous jobs include working as an economist for the Frank Russell investment company, an academic at Rutgers and Princeton, as former head of Public Citizen’s technology consumer protection initiative and his organization received one of those MacArthur Foundation genius awards (or, more accurately, the organizational equivalent).

As always, we begin the podcast this week with Tom Paulson, editor at Humanosphere, and I talking about some of the more salient news stories – such as the Charlie Hebdo murders, an amazing global health success story out of Africa’s ‘meningitis belt’ and a new analysis that shows how poorly the U.S. does compared to other rich nations in supporting the fight against poverty overseas.

Also, we want to thank our new intern, Imana Gunawan, a University of Washington dance and journalism major (seems like a great combo!) for editing and technical assistance in producing this podcast. Imana is pretty fascinating herself so we may eventually get her out from behind the console and ask about her own experiences, ideas and future plans.

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About Author

Gabe Spitzer

Gabriel Spitzer covers health and science at KPLU, after a year covering youth and education. He joined KPLU after years covering science, health and the environment at WBEZ in Chicago.