Hillary Clinton is going to cure Alzheimer’s.
That won’t help her remember where she memory-holed her emails, of course, or just why we invaded Libya. But it will forward the illusion that government, empowered with your money, has the godlike ability to end disease – as though scientists have been waiting around for decades for taxpayer largesse to help out. Now that Hillary’s going to dump a pile of your money on the table, we’ll get this whole Alzheimer’s thing figured out forthwith!
CNN reports that Hillary wants to spend $2 billion per year on Alzheimer’s research – she says she’ll cure the disease by 2025, which seems rather arbitrary. Why not do it by tomorrow, or the day after?
This is usual fare for Democrats, though. They’re actual snake oil salesmen.
In 2004, Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards pledged to cure Christopher Reeves’ paralysis: “If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair and walk again." Just a few weeks ago, vice president Joe Biden called for a “moon shot in this country to cure cancer.” Biden said we could do it, but only by confiscating wealth from private Americans to hand to the World’s Best Scientists™.
It’s unclear whether government funding helps come up with treatments for disease. The government’s treatments, at best, amounted to somewhere between 9.3 percent and 21.2 percent of all new drugs approved from 1990 through 2007, according to a study by the New England Journal of Medicine. That means the vast majority of pharmaceutical treatments come from the private sector – and those private sector companies have to challenge the state-run hierarchy at the Food and Drug Administration, which is extraordinarily costly. Public-sector research institutions (PSRIs) come up with great solutions – but it’s private companies that then utilize those solutions to come up with far more effective drugs.
The same Hillary Clinton stumping for $2 billion federal funding for Alzheimer’s declared “the drug companies” her enemies in her first Democratic 2012 debate. Those drug companies have a far better shot at curing Alzheimer's than Hillary's big government spend -- but not if Hillary keeps vowing to destroy them.
The Manhattan Institute released a study in 2008 reviewing private sector impact on the development of important drugs. Here were their findings:
Instead, we find that for all or virtually all thirty-five drugs (or drug classes) discussed in this study, the scientific contributions of the private sector were crucial to their discovery or development. The dominant pattern emerging from the case histories is the delineation of a biological target from basic research on dis- ease processes and biological science, often—but not always—conducted at universities or other institutions likely to have received government funding. That investigation of biological targets—enzymes, receptors, and so on—is followed by scientific advances in the discovery, development, synthesis, and screening of inhibitors and other compounds that might prove reactive with the biological targets. Those compounds then must be optimized in terms of their targeting properties, toxicities must be analyzed and research conducted to mitigate them, and large-scale production processes must be invented or adapted.
In other words, government funding for research helps come up with the “basic science” then used by drug companies to investigate. But even that statement is controversial – author Matt Ridley wrote in October 2015 in the Wall Street Journal that “basic science” is a myth when it comes to effective creation of innovation. “For more than a half century, it has been an article of faith that science would not get funded if government did not do it, and economic growth would not happen if science did not get funded by the taxpayer,” Ridley wrote. But that is a lie, Ridley says – instead, the private sector develops solutions, then does the research to investigate the underlying principles. He continues:
It follows that there is less need for government to fund science: Industry will do this itself. Having made innovations, it will then pay for research into the principles behind them. Having invented the steam engine, it will pay for thermodynamics….In 2003, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development published a paper on the “sources of economic growth in OECD countries” between 1971 and 1998 and found, to its surprise, that whereas privately funded research and development stimulated economic growth, publicly funded research had no economic impact whatsoever. None. This earthshaking result has never been challenged or debunked. It is so inconvenient to the argument that science needs public funding that it is ignored.
And so Democrats will continue demonizing the people who actually come up with the drugs that will cure Alzheimer’s. The truth is that government actors dump an enormous amount of money into diseases that typically win them votes, which is why federal HIV/AIDS funding routinely outstrips heart disease research funding. But more importantly, government grants don’t go to the development of drugs themselves – they go to the theory of drugs, which may or may not impact the development of drugs in the private sector.
Government can’t do everything. It can stop pharmaceutical companies from investing in research and development. It certainly can’t cure cancer or heart disease or Alzheimer’s or paralysis. But politicians who promise that it can are sure to win hearts and minds, even if they can’t save them.