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A People’s History of Monopoly Medicine from Aspirin to COVID-19 Vaccines—New Book from Economy for All Fellow Alexander Zaitchik

January 3, 2022

Owning the Sun: A People’s History of Monopoly Medicine from Aspirin to COVID-19 Vaccines will be released by Counterpoint Press this year by IMI Economy for All fellow Alexander Zaitchik.

One of the most problematic areas in the social response to the world health crisis of COVID-19 has been the profit-seeking and opportunism of Western private businesses. Monopolistic control and no-bid contracts have been handed to pharmaceutical companies that for the most part have developed medicines based on public research. Zaitchik’s book offers the key history, context, and framework from which a general sense of a people’s politics of medicine can be projected. IMI will be working this year to distribute and amplify the careful research and reporting from Zaitchik’s book.

If you ever wondered how we went from a culture that produced Jonas Salk, who understood vaccines as a social product and a public good, to pharmaceutical executives at companies like Pfizer and BioNTech coldbloodedly negotiating the sale of their medicines while prioritizing profits over public health, Owning the Sun is the book to get answers to how we got here and how we can do better.

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Owning the Sun tells the story of one of the most contentious fights in human history: the legal right to control the production of lifesaving medicines. Medical science began as a discipline geared toward the betterment of all human life, but the merging of research with intellectual property and the rise of the pharmaceutical industry warped and eventually undermined its ethical foundations. Since World War II, federally funded research has facilitated most major medical breakthroughs, yet these drugs are often wholly controlled by price-gouging corporations with growing international ambitions. Why does the U.S. government fund the development of medical science in the name of the public, only to relinquish exclusive rights to drug companies, and how does such a system impoverish us, weaken our responses to global crises, and, as in the case of AIDS and COVID-19, put the world at risk?

Outlining how generations of public health and science advocates have attempted to hold the line against Big Pharma and their allies in government, Alexander Zaitchik’s first of its kind history documents the rise of medical monopoly in the United States and its subsequent globalization. From the controversial arrival of patent-wielding German drug firms in the late 19th century, to present-day coordination between industry and philanthropic organizations—including the influential Gates Foundation—that stymie international efforts to vaccinate the world against COVID-19, Owning the Sun tells one of the most important and least understood histories of our time.

Praise for Owning the Sun:

“A brave and timely reminder… A trenchant study of the dangers of turning medical knowledge into private intellectual property.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Journalist Zaitchik (The Gilded Rage) takes readers through the labyrinthine history of medical patents in this expansive study… Zaitchik covers a remarkable amount of ground and never gets lost in the weeds. The result is comprehensive and illuminating.” —Publishers Weekly

“Riveting. Owning the Sun masterfully explains how Big Pharma methodically gained global control over the largely public-funded ‘intellectual property’ required to manufacture new therapies (like the COVID-19 vaccines). A must-read for those wanting to understand how this unfolded.” —John Abramson, MD, author of Sickening: How Big Pharma Broke American Health Care and How We Can Repair It

“Highly informative and deeply troubling reading.” —Library Journal

“With so many Americans unable to afford ever soaring drug prices, Zaitchik’s important [and] insightful history of the rise of Big Pharma demonstrates the urgency of restraining pharmaceutical monopoly power.” —U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett, House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chair

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