As the Nobel season arrives it becomes hard to believe that American power is eroding and the ability to influence global events and outcomes is shifting to the east. The Nobel Prizes have started coming and the kick-off has seen the US score first. All the three scientist-academics who got the Medicine or Physiology Nobel yesterday are US citizens associated with varsities there in various capacities.
The greatest award on Earth has been bagged by James Rothman, professor of biomedical sciences at Yale University; Randy Schekman, professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley; and Thomas C Suedhof, a physiology professor at Stanford University.
The Nobel Committee announced the $1.25m prize for work on how enzymes and hormones are transported in cells, and are dropped off at the target location in bodies without getting lost. Such research is going to unravel much that was hitherto unknown about diabetes and other diseases. Their studies have also thrown light on how nerve cells in the brain communicate with one another to transmit data and how embryos liberate growth factors to develop organs.
A number of Americans generally walk away with the awards every year. Two Americans, in recent memory, have won the Peace Nobel— President Barack Obama, and former vice president Al Gore. The Peace Nobel seems to be the most contested of all. The Prize to Obama in 2009 was the most criticised one, and the one to the European Union last year received its share of public admonition. All Nobel Prizes impact humanity in one way or the other. The Medicine Prize is a great enabler for the pharmaceutical and medical industry that develops solutions for scores of diseases like cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and the like.
However, once awarded, interest wanes in how the research is translated into benefit for mankind. How do the Nobel recipients or the laboratories they are associated with work toward ensuring that the outcome of the research benefits mankind? In other words, do patients in need of treatment or medicines developed as a result of the Nobel-winning research, get them conveniently or at a reasonable price?
It is often seen that market forces start operating once the drug molecule is developed and it becomes a free-for-all in the research-industrial complex. Benefits to patients come at a huge cost and affordability becomes a rare phenomenon. Thus, the whole purpose of the research is often lost.
The international community and not-for-profit groups in the healthcare sector should take up the issue along with the World Health Organisation with an aim to prevent excessive profit-mongering by multinational pharmaceutical giants in developing drugs and treatments•