What is the Orphan Drug Act?

Back in 1982, President Reagan introduced the concept of orphan drugs--drugs for which there would be a potentially very small market. In order to develop these products, to give the pharmaceutical companies the incentive to develop these products, which they would not otherwise have because of the small market, the federal government gave them subsidies, extended patent rights, and major tax breaks. So there are direct government subsidies to pharmaceutical companies to encourage them to develop so-called orphan drugs for the treatment of serious conditions in small population groups. And Human Growth Factor was one such drug developed then with heavy subsidies by the Federal Government. And now that it's being used beyond the original intended use, it's become a blockbuster. I mean, it's making millions for Genentech. And that raises another ethical concern: to what extent ought private companies be able to benefit from these sort of public subsidies that make their work possible.

Final thoughts on eugenics…

So, eugenics, whether negative--eliminating from the gene pool so-called undesirable genes--or positive, adding to the human gene pool those we think are desirable is fraught with ambiguity. And generally I think we are moving toward a consensus that positive eugenics is absolutely unacceptable, but that there may be serious maladies that would make negative eugenics at least appear to be a desirable thing to do.

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