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Posted on Tue, Dec 1, 2009 : 6:39 p.m.

Medical students carol for changes to the health care bill at Congressman John Dingell's office

By Tina Reed


University of Michigan second year medical student Zoey Thill, right, and other U-M medical students carol for health care Tuesday in honor of World AIDS Day. Tina Reed |

About a dozen University of Michigan medical students - many dressed in lab coats and holiday apparel - headed to Ypsilanti to sing Christmas carols Tuesday morning.

But the students, singing on Michigan Avenue outside Rep. John Dingell's office in honor of World AIDS Day, weren't exactly trying to spread good cheer.

With rewritten lyrics, they were instead calling for more support for AIDS treatment and prevention funding and for Dingell, D-Dearborn, to use his clout to make certain improvements to the health care reform bill.

One of the biggest issues, they said, was a line in the current draft of the bill relating to a certain class of pharmaceuticals call biologics. Many biologics are made from living components, such as living cells, and have provided significantly advanced treatments for different diseases, the students said. 

However, the bill as it's written would allow a 12-year period where drug makers are able to keep market exclusivity, or avoid the creation of generic drug competitors - unlike the five-year period allowed for conventional drugs. The bill would also allow companies to extend their market exclusivity by making small tweaks to the product.

This could stifle patient access to more affordable generic drugs that could help HIV and AIDS patients in the future, said Marce Abare, a second-year medical student at U-M and an organizer of the event. Dingell has the seniority to make this portion of the bill a priority, she said.

Dingell's office did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday afternoon.



Sun, Dec 6, 2009 : 7:44 a.m.

I doubt that the Congressman for Life is listening.

Jake C

Thu, Dec 3, 2009 : 12:01 a.m.

Yes, those med students tend to be the most liberal, activist tree-huggers out there... what??? I thought doctors were supposed to be the most money-hungry profession behind lawyers and politicians? And the same people who will call certain medical students "Bleeding Heart Liberals" will also praise the benefits of our free market system, and will also support the patent system that provides certain Corporations with a strategic and government-supported advantage over others?? What do you want? For for-profit companies to have an indefinite claim to the molecules they develop? Or just for a reasonable amount of time? Do you prefer a truly free-market system that grants corporations total sovereignty which is ruled by survival of the fittest? Or do you prefer something in-between? Or do you simply prefer whatever is politically expedient for the political party or personality that you currently support?


Wed, Dec 2, 2009 : 7:34 p.m.

I read that maliria kills more children in africa than AIDS.Can mosquitos transmit AIDS? By the way I had maliria and it really sucked.


Wed, Dec 2, 2009 : 12:30 p.m.

Once they get out of school and begin to practice the bleeding heart is gone. Medicine is a business now, not a healing art.


Wed, Dec 2, 2009 : 12:28 p.m.

In response to the concerns raised by John Galt, braggslaw, and ponycarr, these changes to the legislation would not reduce incentives for drug company R&D. In fact, the wording that allows for "evergreening" (making slight tweaks to the drug to extend data exclusivity) essentially allows for drug company monopoly of the drugs and thus prevents innovation and further R&D efforts. In addition, as NTray said, the biologics actually do not cost any more than conventional drugs to develop. Therefore, there is no reason to have a longer data exclusivity period for biologics. It is both necessary and fair that drug companies make profits and have incentives for innovation, but this legislation is unnecessary to allow both of these things to happen. Biologics are the most expensive drugs on the market, and are also used successfully to treat some very debilitating conditions (rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, diabetes). There is no reason why these drugs should be so prohibitively expensive. These medical students are not just "bleeding heart" "naive" activists. They are not asking for free medication and bankrupt companies, just a fairer way to conduct both the pharmaceutical business and healthcare in this country.


Wed, Dec 2, 2009 : 11:54 a.m.

Nice explanation, NTray. Keep in mind that Pharm industry has been the biggest financial supporter for this reform bill. Because they will benefit the most at the end if these changes are made and people have increased access to a provider. Although I agree that pharm companies need incentives to keep up R&D, implying that these students are naive, and after a big paycheck is very unfair. Considering the amount of responsibility they have, most physicians are under-paid.


Wed, Dec 2, 2009 : 10:28 a.m.

Thanks for the clarification, NTray. If you think about it, most med students are "bleeding hearts". They go through long, exhausting years of education to help their fellow humans. Some may think that they are doing it for the big paycheck at the end, but most are not.


Wed, Dec 2, 2009 : 10:20 a.m.

Actually, drug patents are like all other patents: 20 years. As soon as a company (or university) patents a potential drug, the clock begins to tick. However, this is ignoring the fact that many drugs are wrapped up in numerous patents, including many frivolous patents that companies tack on at the end to maximize their period of exclusivity. This period of exclusivity granted by patents is distinct from the period of DATA EXCLUSIVITY that the government grants to originator companies in addition to patent exclusivity to compensate them for the delay these companies have in getting their new pharmaceuticals to market because of the clinical trial/FDA approval process. For conventional drugs this period of data exclusivity is 5 years (orphan drugs get 7 years). This period of data exclusivity prevents generic companies from using the clinical trial data of the originator companies to gain FDA approval of the generic version of the drug. Once this 5 year period is over, generic companies can use the originator data and gain FDA approval by only showing that their drug is chemically identical to the original. The debate over biologics hinges on the length of DATA exclusivity. No one is changing the length of patents. The pharmaceutical industry's own data shows that biologics cost no more to produce than conventional drugs. Why then should these drugs receive more than twice the amount of data exclusivity? The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office examined this question and concluded that ZERO years of data exclusivity are needed and that this would not harm originator companies. Instead, industry lobbied very successfully (buying out individuals such as Howard Dean) and will get 12 years of data exclusivity with the option of renewing this period with very minor changes that will provide no therapeutic benefit (so called "evergreening"). In essence, the originators have ensured that they will have a perpetual monopoly with no fear of ever experiencing generic competition (so much for market reforms! and so much for reducing health care costs!) This is simply a huge give-away to BIO and PhRMA (much like Medicare Part D) which now charge 10s if not 100s of thousands of dollars per patient per year for biologics. We simply cannot afford to let this happen and to allow industry to secretly spoil health care reform.


Wed, Dec 2, 2009 : 10:16 a.m.

I would have thought that U of M medical students were better educated and informed about medical issues than your average student. It appears I'm wrong about that. They're the same bleeding hearts as the typical students. They want free medicine for all and bankrupt drug companies. Then what will they prescribe? Are THEY willing to work for free? Didn't think so. Why do they expect the drug companies to? Or maybe these are fans of holistic medicine and think Saw Palmetto and Ginko will cure the worlds ills?


Wed, Dec 2, 2009 : 9:37 a.m.

drug companies can't develop new drugs for free


Wed, Dec 2, 2009 : 7:47 a.m.

A new refreshing crop of activist med students! Love it.


Wed, Dec 2, 2009 : 6:20 a.m.

Inaccurate article. Patents last twenty years from the date of filing. Extensions are available if the patent prosecution is long and there are significant FDA testing issues. Those drugs will not be created if companies don't make money. Why would a company invest billions just to see the generic companies get it for free (without investing)? But for the profit, those drugs would not have been created.


Tue, Dec 1, 2009 : 8:48 p.m.

inaccuracies.Well People ask your self that question about the health care bill that our over paid so called elected officals will not read.Nice Goverment system we have.

John Galt

Tue, Dec 1, 2009 : 7:17 p.m.

This story has inaccuracies. A drug patent is good for 17 years from the time a molecule is patented. It then takes on average 10 years to run all the FDA trials and get approval. The length of the patent is determined only by the amount of time it takes to get the research completed and the FDA approval. It averages about 7 years. Extentions to the patent time can be provided if the determination is made that it is an "orphan drug" (meaning it is for a relatively rare indication that would not be developed because the time to re-coup investment would be too short). Also, extentions are gived for additional tests for pediatric use. Biologics are complex molecules that do not currently have a domestic approval mechanism in place (therefore, the patent length is irrelevant---no generics get approved). Because they are complex, there is debate about the types of testing needed to approve a generic. Needless to say, any new drug research/development (small-molucule or biologic) is a expensive and time consuming process. The health bill could result in a drastic reduction in incentives for the industry, and a cooresponding reduction in the number of new molecules being tested.