Newer drugs are better than older drugs, right? Wrong.
Often, completely new drugs come to market along with a huge advertising campaign and the promise of research showing their effectiveness. The problem is that to get FDA approval, drug companies only need to show that their drug is more effective than a placebo. That’s right – effective doesn’t mean better than what is already available, it means better than nothing. And often, unless a drug company pays for a head-to-head comparison, this type of research just won’t happen.
So there's almost no data about whether new drugs are better than old. Looking at the data we do have, it turns out that, in general, new drugs are beating placebos by a smaller and smaller margin. That is, to get approved a drug has to be better than nothing, but the drugs of 2013 are less better than nothing than the drugs of 1980.
Meanwhile, there is a 100% chance that a new drug will be several orders of magnitude more expensive than other drugs, as well as a 100% chance that doctors will come to believe that the new drug is better. If nothing else, they'll believe a vague claim about "reduced side effects."
Meanwhile, drug companies claim that without long monopoly periods, they will not invent new drugs.
Legislation should cut the length of new drug patent protection in half, but with a path to restore the protection plus a bonus 5 years. To qualify, the company would provide the drug and money for government (FDA, NIH, or CDC) to conduct it's own trial. If the results demonstrate that the drug represents a significant improvement in health outcomes over all other drugs, then the company is awarded a super-patent.