When Squibb Was A Role Model

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There was a time when everyone was relieved at the idea of a large, successful company manufacturing medicine. While compounding pharmacies are all the rage for a federal government scrambling to reduce health care costs today, it used to be all there was, and it was terrible. Local pharmacists of inconsistent background, training and expertise would concoct medicines in a back room.

In the early 20th century, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing -- Henry Ford would go from being a mechanic for Thomas Edison to having a winter estate next to him in Florida, and that was thanks to consistent manufacturing. Edward Robinson Squibb, whose name is still seen in pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb, was enamored by the skill of both surgeons and manufacturing and decided he could solve a huge problem -- inconsistent anesthesia.  As Dr. Ross Pomeroy notes at Real Clear Science, he not only created a terrific ether compound to induce anesthesia, he created a consistent way to manufacture it.

Then he gave the technology away for free. It was years later that he founded the company that bears his name.

It's unrealistic to expect that today. Pharmaceutical discovery is a high-risk industry that is also burdened with an unrealistic regulatory environment. Hardly a week goes by that a mainstream media journalist isn't publishing a comment noting that Drug X 'is available in Europe' or Asia but not the U.S., while complaining the next week that pharmaceuticals are hurting people and greedy companies and the FDA approval process are why.

There are no easy victories today, but there are victories -- a cure for Hepatitis C is a great example. Even Squibb couldn't afford to give that away for free.