Government Will Need to Save Nuclear in the U.S.

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Who is going to finance advanced drugs? Who is going to guarantee the electric supply in 30 years? Whisper this — it will be the government. In these two areas and others, the risks are now so large that private enterprise — so beloved in so many quarters — can’t shoulder the risk alone. When development risks run into the billions of dollars, the market won’t sanction private companies taking those risks. Drug companies, among the richest of corporations, are also running up against the realities of risk. To develop a new drug, the pharmaceutical industry — known collectively as Big Pharma — has to commit well over a billion dollars.

It is a long and risky road. A need for the drug has to be established; a compound developed — after maybe thousands of failed efforts. Tests have to be conducted on animals, then in controlled human trials. If the drug works, the developers have to get it certified by the Food and Drug Administration. Then they have to market it and buy hugely expensive insurance — if they can get it — because it is almost a rite of passage that they will be sued.

Related article: Despite Setbacks South Korea Commits to Nuclear Power

Under this regime complex diseases, that may require multiple drugs, get short shrift not because the developers of drugs are greedy, but because they honestly cannot afford that kind of research. The result is that the pharmaceutical companies increasingly look to universities and individual researchers — sometimes in teaching hospitals — to find new therapies; research that is paid for by the government through grants from the National Institutes of Health (or, NIH), the Centers for Disease Control, and even from the Department of Defense. Even so, drug research is lagging and NIH is turning down eight out of 10 grant requests.

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