Thursday, January 29, 2004


The latest (January 23) issue of SCIENCE includes a letter to the editor signed by sixteen eminent psychiatrists who complain that two of the fastest and most efficacious treatments for depression are largely ignored. They write, in part:

Sleep deprivation and light therapy cannot be patented, and they will not bring profits to the conventional psychopharmacology industry, but they can help the patient in a shorter time and with fewer side effects than drugs—and can easily and successfully combined with medication. Given the psychological suffering that depression inflicts—including the danger of suicide—and the financial pressures to minimize the duration of hospitalization, it is surprising how little notice is taken of thee remarkable chronobiological interventions.

I note this letter not only because of its intrinsic importance—depression is a major cause of death in the United States—but because the problem it highlights is quite general. Where substantial profits cannot be realized by exploiting control of intellectual property, the system is lousy at delivering the goods.

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