An article in the current issue of The Economist indicates that the appropriate substitution of deuterium for normal hydrogen in drug molecules extends the time that the drug remains in the body. (Deuterium is a form of hydrogen with an extra neutron. The change in the nucleus changes the chemistry of the atom and of molecules in which it is substituted for normal hydrogen.) This reduction of the frequency with which a medication has to be taken can be quite useful in some therapeutic applications. The article suggests, however, that
examination of the patent literature found that the American patent office has started rejecting applications for deuterated versions of existing drugs. Deuterating, too, has become an obvious practice.Without patent protection, I wonder if the holders of the original patents on the drugs (assuming that they are still under patent protection) will find it economically desirable to produce deuterated versions of their products. Will generic companies find it profitable to produce the deuterated versions of drugs?
There ought to be some means to assure the public that useful products within the reach of our technology are brought to market, especially if they are pharmaceutical, and thus of direct benefit to patients. Perhaps the government should set up a grants program to encourage such product development.