Food for Thought: Germany’s Emerging Pirate Party Pillories the Life Sciences Industry

The recent election in Germany’s federal state of Berlin ended with a surprise: a previously almost unknown party, the Pirate Party (Piratenpartei) won 15 of the 152 state parliament seats; nearly every one in ten voters in Berlin casted his ballot for this group, which was founded in 2006 by mostly male young academics and internet-affiliate people.

The program of the party is not very detailed and focuses almost entirely on freedom of information, free access to the internet, free rides on public transport, legalization of drugs and a free basic income for everyone living permanently in Germany.

While the program does not say anything about economic policy (nor on defense or international policy), it includes several statements on the life sciences and pharma industry.

For one, the party opposes patents on genes and living beings (as it opposes software patents and patents on business ideas), and in the long run aims to abolish the entire patent system. The program also states that “patenting of findings from genetic research and biotechnology … poses a great danger to tomorrow’s society.” Such patents should be forbidden by law. Moreover, the program adds that patents on pharmaceuticals, too, should be abandoned as they have “ethically highly objectionable” consequences.

Second, the “Pirates” want to “reorganize” the pharmaceutical sector as it is “characterized by monopoly blocking innovation”. They criticize that the pharma industry is making profit from publicly funded basic research and that public institutions should conduct R&D of novel therapeutics. As a result, society would spend less money on buying drugs but more on developing better ones.

Certainly, it remains to be seen whether the party will have any political influence and whether the success will be sustainable. However, the fact that the few paragraphs on industry and economics in the program almost exclusively deal with the life sciences sector once again demonstrates that the pharma and biotech sector in Germany still has massive reputation problems: one of the most innovative industries is viewed as a stumbling block for a better life.