For Policy Wonks: Bayh-Dole Act and Reducing Pharmaceutical Costs

AB Engelberg et al. NEJM 2022; 386: 1104-1106 (Commentary). A New Way to Contain Unaffordable Medication Costs — Exercising the Government’s Existing Rights

This commentary notes that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) spends more than $40 billion each year to fund biomedical research. “We believe that medicines discovered at public expense should be affordable.”

A Few Excerpts:

  • “Existing laws provide two paths for achieving this result. First, the Bayh–Dole Act of 1980 gives the government a royalty-free license to use patented inventions that were discovered using federal funding. The government has never exercised its Bayh–Dole license”
  • “Second, 28 U.S. Code §1498, which dates to 1910, gives the government immunity from being sued for patent infringement in federal courts, while giving patent owners the right to receive reasonable compensation when the government makes or uses a patent-protected product”
  • Case in point: “Recently, the government signed a contract with Merck to purchase molnupiravir (Lagevrio), an oral antiviral drug that reduces the severity of Covid-19. The contract price of $712 per treatment is estimated to be more than 35 times the cost of producing the drug at a reasonable profit. Molnupiravir was discovered at Emory University using government funding, and Emory’s patent applications acknowledge the government’s Bayh–Dole license.5 Molnupiravir payments for Medicare, Medicaid, and VHA patients could cost the government billions in 2022. This amount could be reduced by more than 90% if the government exercised its license and allowed a generic manufacturer to supply the drug for patients in government-supported programs.”

My take: U.S. taxpayers should get a return on their investment when new medications are developed with government funding rather than paying more for these medications than any other country.

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