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The biggest threat to the American public

After the Trayvon Martin tragedy and the Sandra Fluke/Slutgate latest escalation in the 4 year war on women (that was started by the Democrats, ironically enough), I have determined that the biggest threat to the United States of America and the majority of people who live here is white men.

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Tuesday: Questionable strategies

Richard Dawkins has a strategy to move politicians away from catering to the religious- ridicule their beliefs:

Now, I know there are some believers on this blog who will take offense by Dawkins statement but I think he has a point.  AronRa, youtube atheist blogger, was arguing with the faithful at the Reason Rally and put it something like this: science doesn’t rule out the existence of a god.  We’re just waiting for evidence.  But that book?  That bible?  Yeah, *that* God doesn’t exist.  Everything that is in that book has been proven to be a fable.

Well, I don’t know about EVERYTHING, but just about everything in the first five books of the bible is mythology.  Sorry, believers.  That’s just a fact.  There was no Adam and Eve or Tree of Knowledge or talking serpents.  Noah might have been based on a real person but his account can be found in a Sumerian document that was written about a 1000 years before Genesis.  Even Moses might have been fictional and the rules in Deuteronomy were penned by some self serving priests.  That’s what archeology tells us.  I’m a personal fan of Jesus but only his parables, sermons and the occupation events he staged during his last week.

If more believers could just put that Judeo-Christian god in its proper context and move on to God 2.0 or no god at all, we could get this country back on the right track and stop this ridiculous charade every four years where the presidential candidates stoop to out-holy each other and use religion as an excuse to deregulate anti-discrimination law protecting women.

The proscriptions against gay people, the submission of women, the silly rules about crustaceans and fabrics, the harsh punishments, all that is based on Bronze Age culture.  Um, we don’t live in the Bronze Age.  Four hundred years ago, we stopped believing that the earth is the center of the universe but for some reason, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, we still believe that humankind emerged from two naked people in a mythical garden.

It’s only with time and distance that we can see the bible as it really is.  Once you’ve reached that tipping point, the whole construct falls apart.  It’s ridiculous to expect modern people to run their lives and governments based on Bronze Age writings and drug induced hallucinations of a dude stranded on an island off the coast of Turkey.

So, unfortunately, I think Dawkins is right.  For all we know, we and the people around us have only one life to live on this earth.  The biggest sin we can commit against them is to ignore the suffering of others because the end of the world is coming any minute now or treat the disenfranchised like second class citizens because of who they love or what plumbing they have.  What a waste of talent.  And if there is a God, it would be really stupid to exclude good people from making a difference in the world because God can use all the help she can get.

Anyway, these days, when I hear the religious go on about how evolution is wrong and Adam and Eve are right, and that a convicted conman in NY found a bunch of golden tablets, that no one else has ever seen, and translated them into English from Reformed Egyptian and that this is the basis upon which we control women because they are less than fully adult, this is what it sounds like:

Sounds unbelievable, doesn’t it?

That’s because it is.

*********************

Yesterday, the Supreme Court set aside a lower court ruling awarding patents for two breast cancer genes to Myriad Genetics.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, discovering a gene that already exists in nature is not the same as discovering a small molecule drug to treat disease. That would be like patenting some exotic species of plant collected by some ethnobiologist on a field trip. I can see how you could patent an analog (structural modification) of a chemical that the plant produced but the plant itself? Any scientist should be able to study that plant and use it for research. The plant isn’t novel and wasn’t made by man. Same with genes.

I think many of us in research have run into the problem of trying to work around a patent like this. About a decade ago, I was on a project that had to get around a patent on a protein structure. That’s right, the competition had patented their protein structure. It was available in the publicly available database but researchers couldn’t use it for drug design while the validity of the patent was still in dispute. So, even if the patent holders eventually lost their rights, they would still have had a substantial lead over their competition who would spend months and years trying not to look at the binding site of the patent structure. It’s like blindfolding your competition.

On the other hand, it’s bloody expensive to do research. Mindboggling, ridiculously expensive. If you do manage to isolate a gene and plan to use it for commercial purposes, you should be able to recoup the cost of your discovery efforts. Up to this point, companies like Myriad Genetics license their technology to other companies. Academic institutions also do this with their proprietary assays which are expensive and take many months of negotiations and lawyers to acquire. Without the licensing fees, these institutions will be asked to turn over their discoveries for the good of mankind with little compensation, or invest in discovery efforts, which they may not have the money or expertise to do. Companies will start firing their staff and going overseas where it’s cheaper to hire people. It won’t be faster or better. Just cheaper. And the scientists who are thrown out of work over here will just stop doing science altogether because it is impossible to have a stable domestic life.

In recent years, many big pharma companies have turned to biologics and shed their small molecule drug discovery efforts. That’s because small molecules have to be defended against patent infringement and the class action lawsuits that follow the release of every new drug. The companies thought they had a winner in biologics and they may still. But this case may put those discoveries at risk if they turn out to be nothing more than the product of nature. They should expect a lot more patent challenges. And without their small molecule drug discovery units, which have been mercilessly obliterated by the short term goals of the financial class, they may find themselves on the bitter end of ever diminishing returns. In this case, karma works against everyone who is hoping for a cure from modern medicine.

What pharma needs is a long term strategy and relief from some class action lawsuits. I know the left doesn’t want to discuss tort reform but in an industry where perfection and customization for each individual is not possible yet, the prospect of class action lawsuits has had a chilling effect on discovery and approval of some drugs. There are many other problems with drug research companies that I have outlined before but there is no doubt that the system is broken and may take a long time to fix without incentives to shift to a long term strategy. Research isn’t cheap and researchers need to eat. Drugs can’t be free but we may be able to make them affordable if we develop new strategies for discovery.

Something’s got to give.