MR. BUSH CHANGES SIDES



MR. BUSH CHANGES SIDES
Washington Post: President Bush moved in the right direction Monday when he proposed rules that would make it easier to sell cheap generic drugs. These copycat medicines are supposed to be allowed on the market once the patents on the brand-name products they mimic have expired. But the brand-name companies have deployed legal maneuvers to extend their patents beyond the intended expiration, frustrating the price-cutters. If Mr. Bush renders some of those maneuvers illegal, health plans and consumers will save billions of dollars. The president's new position is especially welcome considering that he had previously sided with drug industry lobbyists and against consumers.
This conversion is going to need monitoring, because it seems to have been made with an eye to the midterm elections. The rising cost of prescriptions is a big pocketbook issue for voters, and it has favored Democrats, who have used their control of the Senate to pass a pro-generics bill that the Republican-controlled House has blocked. Monday's presidential proposal was apparently designed to neutralize the Democrats' advantage. Because it is only a proposal -- and because it will not be made final until after a 60-day comment period -- there's a danger that an election-season announcement will be diluted once the voting is safely done.
Stifling competition
Moreover, the president's proposal omits many of the useful reforms contained in the Senate legislation. The main point in common is that both suggest limiting brand-name companies' ability to stifle competition by alleging that generic drugs infringe on their patents, which gets them an automatic 30-month patent extension. But the president's limits are looser; he does less than the Senate to prevent drug companies from fending off competitors by listing frivolous patents, and he does not address patent-holders' outrageous habit of paying would-be generic rivals not to bring cheap drugs to market.
The patented-drug firms are tough lobbyists, which is why the Senate's good legislation has been buried in the House. During the comment period, they will no doubt argue that their ability to finance medical research will be compromised if their patent rights are diluted. But promotion of research needs to be balanced against the imperative to make the fruits of research affordable. By exploiting legal loopholes to extend patents beyond their extended limits, the pharmaceutical lobby has skewed this tradeoff.
Monday Mr. Bush seemed to be grasping for a better balance. He declared of the pharmaceutical lobby: "You deserve the fair rewards of your research and development; you do not have the right to keep generic drugs off the market for frivolous reasons." It is now up to the president to follow through on that statement -- to go beyond Monday's proposal, and beyond Election Day.
CHIMP SHUFFLEBOARD?
Philadelphia Inquirer: Human beings are the stewards of consciousness. We know what it means to suffer and know you're suffering. We are especial stewards of consciousness close to our own. As consciousness approaches the human, it becomes easier to honor and treasure it.
A chimpanzee does not know everything we know, but we know all the feelings it knows. We are not so different from our close cousins that we can in good conscience use them and throw them away.
So it was good to hear that Chimp Haven of Shreveport, La., has received $19 million in federal funds to build a sanctuary for chimpanzees retired from federal biomedical research facilities. That money allows building to begin; Chimp Haven still needs $6 million in matching funds.
Consider: 1,500 chimps are in federal labs throughout the country. Many are no longer in service. Some have been subjects of medical and scientific research for as long as 40 years.
Humans made these creatures captive so they could help us discover treatments for disease. We owe them our lives.
So do not sniff at using tax dollars for their benefit. This system actually should cut the cost of caring for each chimp by two-thirds. Plus, the funding already exists.
Sanctuary system
The Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection Act, signed into law with bipartisan support in 2000, created a sanctuary system for retired chimps. The National Institutes of Health was designated to choose from among applicants for the money, which comes out of the existing NIH budget.
It has been decades since chimps were imported from the wild. A misguided breeding program in the 1980s produced hundreds of chimps that were never used in research. There was no place to put them or the chimps being retired. Thus, hundreds of these animals have never lived outside a lab.
The site, scheduled to open in less than two years, is a beautiful place, 200 forested acres donated by residents of Caddo Parish, La., that eventually will be home to 200 chimps. The chimps can't thank us or understand words like compassion. But they couldn't understand the forces that put them in labs, either.
What they will understand is the green, inviting open that will beckon them when their cage doors are unlatched. Our best act of stewardship -- and gratitude -- is to lead them back to a world they do understand.

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