The Dark Side of Pharmaceuticals

Big Pharma

This is not about the opioid epidemic, something caused by Congress not voting for controls on illicit sale to pharmacies (due to lobbyists.) Biotech is big business, or as Trump would say, “very, very big.” Now a giant called Celgene is investing in biotech’s future by buying Impact BioMedicines with a possible $7 Billion ante up. Good investment? Well, biobucks are hotter than Bitcoin, long term. Just watch any network news report, the second half of which is all pharmaceuticals, with side effects. Development takes years and millions, and the payoffs are big, and losses also. (My sister has bone cancer, and her meds just on insurance co-pay are $500 a week.) Drug patents expire, rivals vie for space, with mergers and acquisitions the ultimate power play. Trump is trying to deregulate everything from the EPA to the DEA. It’s a “go big or go home” strategy. The cancer drug Jakafi is a huge seller for two other pharmaceutical giants, and Celgene wants to compete. They want in. On the ropes with their own drug expiring soon, they have little choice. The CEO touts the future of using genetic engineering to attach genes to molecules, similar to what Ron Howard’s show Breakthroughs reported last year in which a neutered HIV targeted cancers past the blood/brain barrier.  Meanwhile, supplements like Nugenix is being hyped to athletes to improve testosterone. Is there a dark side to biotech? “CRISPR” (pronounced “crisper”) stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, which are the hallmark of a bacterial defense system that forms the basis for CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology. It may soon be possible to eliminate certain diseases genetically, to change the eye color (and more) of babies, and to lengthen the lifespan of humans. Many strides have already been made, such as the means to fight cancer using gene therapy. To some, this is all “playing God,” while to others it is progress: the “search for better explanations, leading to discoveries,” as David Deutsch put it in “The Beginning of Infinity.” Whatever one’s beliefs, there are problems with all technologies, as discussed in the new book on social media interfaces: “Dawn of the New Everything” by Jaron Lanier. In my novel “The Methuselah Gene” a neutered HIV is used, not as a cancer therapy, but to implant a longevity gene taken from a bristlecone pine tree past the blood/brain barrier, and extend human life by decades. A pill to do something like this is now in the works, and may be here within a decade. How much would such a pill cost, and will only the super rich be able to afford it, not the “Young, Dumb and Broke?” In the New Rules governing culture, before our young icons can acquire near immortality via science, what if nefarious forces tested it on a small town without their knowledge or consent…and discovered that there were side effects?   

The Methuselah Gene

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