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Martin Shkreli arrested

Dear Reader,

It has come to my attention that Martin Shkreli has been arrested in the USA, he has been accused of trading in an illegal manner, a more detailed news report about the deeds which he is accused of can be seen here. Now it is possible to read a 51 page legal document about the crimes he is charged with if you do not have the time to read the original. It has some seven different crimes which Martin and another person are accused of. Now while some of the things he has been accused of sound serious to me, but we should understand that in the eyes of the law he is still innocent as he has not been convicted by a court.

If we look at the conduct of Martin then sadly even if he has behaved in a legal manner it has not been in what I would view as a moral manner. The company Turing Pharmaceuticals obtained the rights to a drug (pyrimethamine) and increased the price to a crazy level per pill, the former CEO of this company happened to be wait for it Martin Shkreli. I wrote former as he is no longer the CEO, he has been recently dismissed.

One of the things which Turing are accused of his preventing researchers obtaining their product, this is in an attempt to prevent someone else doing the comparative trials required to bring an alternative generic product to the marketplace. This is something which the RSC have accused Turing of having done, I see a simple solution. If Turing are able to control the distribution of their pills in the USA, then allow data obtained in a clinical trial of two or more versions of the drug done somewhere else (such as the UK) to be used by the US authority to make the choice regarding “should they issue a license” to a second supplier in the USA.

Drug regulators can be a bit funny (not funny ha ha) on data obtained outside their part of the world. For example in Japan it took a very long time (35 years) for low dose oral contraceptives to be licensed, in the 1980s they wanted to do safety trials for the “pill”. But I have to ask why it took until 1999 to decide if the pill was safe and effective. My reasoning is that a normal and rational drug regulator would be using data from around the world. It would pay attention to studies done in China, USA, Russia, France, Sweden, the UK and elsewhere. It could be quite easy in the early 1990s to make a good decision based on non japanese studies. One paper on the subject expressed the view that because of some vested interests the regulator in Japan was very slow to approve of “the pill”. For more detail see A. Goto, M.R. Reich and I. Aitken, Journal of the American Medical Association, 1999, volume 282, issue 22, pages 2173 to 2177.

Now this price increase brings me to an important point, I hold the view that a company, even a drug company, should try to make a profit. A reasonable profit, they should cover the cost of production, research and development together with the other costs of running the company. But it is immoral to push up the price of a life saving product to the point that people are unable to afford it.

One of the problems is that some people want to ignore intellectual property rights, some people want to be able to infringe patents and do other things which harm the interests of the intellectual property owners. For example India wants to force drug companies to give cheap licenses to produce drugs to Indian drug makers. Now like many things it is not a black and white issue.

The argument for is: “By forcing the western drug company to issue a license to an Indian company, that the general public in India will have an affordable supply of a lifesaving drug”

The argument against is “By harming the ability of a drug company to make money from a drug which is protected by a patent, it reduces to removes any incentive for the drug company to develop any new drugs”

While what India is doing is controversial, the protections granted by law to the holders of intellectual property could become even weaker. The Pirate party have stated

We will reduce the duration of copyright to 10 years, closer to the original duration of 14 years, reflecting the much greater ease with which works can now be made and distributed.

Shorter copyright will encourage artists to keep on creating new work; will allow new art forms, such as mash-ups; and will stop big businesses from relying on large back-catalogues rather than investing in new content.

Our 10 year copyright length will include within it a renewal after 5 years, allowing works in which the creator is no longer interested to fall into the public domain after 5 years.

Now as a person who has produced content looks at this, I am thinking that if the copyright I own on what I write only lasts for ten years then I have close to no incentive for making any more original content. They may not understand it, or choose to ignore it, but sometimes copyright holders such as me are known to give away their product with a very relaxed license or even for free with “copyleft”. The problem is that to operate copyleft requires copyright to exist. I mailed the UK Pirate party on the 17th of December to ask them exactly what they mean. I was mailed back very quickly on the same day by their deputy leader, well regardless of what we might end up thinking of them they give a “random blogger” what I would call the royal treatment.

Now it is important for us not to allow the fact that they so quickly made contact with me to alter our view of their ideas, David Elston confirmed that they want to reduce the length of all legal protections for intellectual property to only ten years. David expresses the view that strong laws protecting intellectual property do not provide any protection, I would have to disagree the ability of a person or company to obtain a court order to stop something which is infringing their intellectual property rights is a useful thing to be able to obtain. My own view of civil law is that going to court is something not to be taken lightly but when you are dealing with someone who ignores nice and polite letters, and refuses to try to resolve things with less formal means then you may have little choice but to start a lawsuit.

He also used the argument on me that Ofcom figures suggest that file sharers, copyright violators in the view of others, spend more money on line. His data indicates that for each £ 16 spent on line by regular internet users the file sharers spend £ 26. I think that this is a bad argument. It does not prove that file sharers spend more money in any particular place.

I might spend next to no money on wine but a bank robber who has held up SEB, NatWest, HSBC and add the name of another bank might spend £ 300 a week on fancy wine. This does not mean that the bank robber is better for society than me, he might spend more at the wine shop but if you consider the rights of the banking sector (and the people working there together with customers) then the bank robber still is harmful to the banking sector regardless of how much he spends at the wine shop. Even while bankers might not be popular after the banking scandals of the last decade we need a healthy banking sector for society to operate well.

It does not matter how much a person spends or how many charity donations they make if they trample on the rights of someone else by stealing from another person. Without seeing the exact text of the Ofcom report it is impossible to know exactly where the two populations spend their money.

Now after we have seen two extremes in the debate on intellectual property, lets return to the chemistry of the matter. Which I think will be less troublesome to my readers. V.Sethuraman and P.T.Muthiah in Acta Crystallogr.,Sect.E:Struct.Rep.Online , 2002, volume 58, page o817 reported the crystal structure of the free base. I have looked at this. In common with the salts of the drug which are also present in the Cambridge database the two aromatic rings are not coplanar. The single bond linking the two is twisted such that the amino and ethyl groups on one aromatic ring (the diazine) are far away from the hydrogens on the benzene ring. This is what I think is a clear examine of steric inhibition of an electronic effect which would lower the energy of the molecule. Here is one view of the molecule.

pyrimethamine first view

pyrimethamine first view

Here is another view in case the first one was not clear in your mind.

pyrimethamine a view along the C-C bond linking the two aromatic rings

pyrimethamine a view along the C-C bond linking the two aromatic rings

The fact that P.K.Bryant, J.Colby, R.G.Jenks, P.R.Lowe, C.H.Schwalbe in Acta Crystallogr.,Sect.A, 1984, volume 40, page C79a reported the crystal structure of the HCl salt is clear evidence that the drug has been known about for a very long time.


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