Elizabeth Warren's "Pharma Swear Jar" Idea

Derek | Corante | January 23, 2015

Elizabeth Warren has come out with a proposal for what she's calling a "pharmaceutical swear jar". Once a drug company had been fined, this bill would earmark a percentage of their profits over a multiyear period for use in NIH funding. Like many of Warren's ideas, this one has a lot of populist appeal - but does it make any sense?

It actually reminds me of that "Take back the grant money in case of fraud" idea that I vacillated about earlier this week. That one, though, at least has the benefit of having a pretty direct connection between the people causing harm and some of the ones getting harmed. In this idea, the tie is pretty indirect - unless, of course, Warren is one of those people who believe that the drug industry mostly makes its money by ripping off NIH-funded discoveries. And she seems to be: she says that such companies are "generating enormous profits as a result of federal research investments". So she probably sees this as a perfectly logical quid pro quo. This idea makes it seem as if drug companies have harmed the NIH when they're fined for over-promotion of a drug or for manufacturing problems, but that connection doesn't exist...