Philanthropists are funding drug research the wrong way

Diarmaid McDonald

In February, Cancer Research UK (CRUK) launched the ‘More Research, Less Cancer’ campaign, which, in their words, aims to get ‘high-value donors and philanthropists to raise £400m to tackle the disease, making it the largest ever philanthropic campaign by a UK charity’.

Finding a cure for cancer seems like such a self-evidently ‘good’ thing, this should perhaps be an uncontroversial move. But curing cancer, or rather the economic and political systems we have created around the mission of finding a cure for cancer and other diseases, is in reality deeply complex and controversial.

Almost every pound spent by public and philanthropic actors on cancer and other disease-focused R&D will ultimately end up as intellectual property owned and ruthlessly controlled by drug companies that will seek to maximise their profits from monopoly-protected sales, with little regard to equity or the global public good.

With an estimated two billion people unable to access essential medicines every year, the current, in-part philanthropically funded, medical innovation system has been widely criticised for perpetuating deep health inequalities that exacerbate racial, gender, and economic injustice.

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