If you were looking for a very last minute Christmas gift a couple of weeks ago, a full page ad in the December 25 issue of the New York Times Review of Books might have prompted you to check out The Karasik Conspiracy. According to the blurb, this is “the novel the pharmaceutical industry tried to commission, then control, and finally kill.” Good heavens: what have they done this time?
An employee of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the trade association representing the research-based drug makers, at the prompting of an external consultant, offered a couple of authors $300,000 to write a book about a terrorist plot against America that uses unsafe, counterfeit drugs to poison and kill Americans who order lower priced medicines from overseas.
Unfortunately, PhRMA and related folks did not like the first draft. Because they believe that most Americans ordering overseas prescriptions via the Internet are women, they wanted more of a love story to attract female readers, whom the novel would scare off buying those meds.
The whole project crashed on the rocks of literary freedom and PhRMA withdrew its (secret) sponsorship. Piqued, the authors secured the publisher’s commitment and did two things to punish the research-based pharmaceutical industry. First, they re-wrote the novel so that the terrorists were acually financed and managed by a pharmaceutical company. Second, they published their e-mail correspondence with PhRMA and its consultant on their website, www.karasikconspiracy.com.
The easy way to blog about this is to marvel at PhRMA’a misstep in funding this venture - but that’s already been done at Arianna Huffington’s website, amongst others.
Nevertheless, this bizarre episode invites consideration of at least two issues.
1) The pharmaceutical industry’s influence is not as great as we thought. It failed to kill this book, and its public relations now look more absurd than evil.
2) The pharmaceutical industry’s almost exclusive focus on the safety angle of the parallel trade issue has led it far down the wrong track, even into sensationalism. There are exactly zero good arguments in favor of parallel trade: it is a theft of intellectual property; will not reduce prices in the U.S. but increase prices overseas; will reduce scentific R&D in the U.S., etc.
Nevertheless, polls indicate that Americans strongly want the ability to buy cheaper drugs from overseas. However, when pollsters frame the question to suggest that the so-called “Canadian” drugs are actually from Pellucidar, or Azkaban, or somewhere else, support drops significantly.
This has caused the pharmaceutical industry to focus its opposition to parallel trade on the safety element almost to the exclusion of everything else, perhaps to the point of obsession.