University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Pharmaceutical Geographies, Pharmaceutical Economies

Spring 2012
Instructors: Susan Craddock (Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies and the Institute for Global Studies) and Dominique A. Tobbell (Program in the History of Medicine)
Schedule: Tuesdays 2:30-5 p.m. ever other week starting on January 24.
Location: Nolte Center
Composition: Faculty, graduate students, and P&As

Participation Information

Course Description:

This seminar explores the pharmaceutical industry as a locus of scientific and marketing practices, global policies, and biotechnological products that together exemplify the themes of scarcity and abundance. Two of us, Professor Dominique Tobbell of the Program in the History of Medicine in the Medical School, and Professor Susan Craddock of the Institute for Global Studies and GWSS, CLA, together will cover historical and contemporary issues that underscore the paradoxical nature of the global pharmaceutical enterprise. On the one hand, the pharmaceutical industry’s remarkable potential to intervene in major health problems with advances in scientific knowledge and manufacturing capacity has led to an abundance of pharmaceutical resources in Western countries, and has led to what some observers characterize as the over-pharmaceuticalization of American society. On the other hand, global regulatory mechanisms and the prohibitive pricing policies of major pharmaceutical firms have restricted the global circulation of pharmaceuticals and led to pharmaceutical scarcity in many regions of the world, particularly in Africa, Asia, and South America.

Disparities in the distribution of pharmaceutical resources also map onto geographic differences in the epidemiology of disease. Numerous chronic diseases with large patient populations in Western industrialized countries, such as hypertension, hypercholesteremia, erectile dysfunction and generalized anxiety disorder, have garnered the attention and significant resources of pharmaceutical firms. This has led pharmaceutical firms to develop scores of new and not-so-new (me-too) drugs to treat these chronic diseases, which in turn has helped generate billions of dollars of profit for the industry. In contrast, however, numerous acute and lethal diseases (such as malaria, diarrhea, and dysentery), which afflict large numbers of people in non-Western and less industrialized (and thus less profitable) regions of the world, suffer from a scarcity of research attention and resources.

This seminar will examine the emergence and persistence of these global disparities in pharmaceuticals by providing historical, political, economic, and cultural analyses of the manufacturing, regulation, and distribution of pharmaceuticals. In particular, we’ll examine early models of pharmaceutical production in the United States and Europe; the emergence of the politicized patient-consumer and their influence on the development of drugs to treat specific diseases; the development of intellectual property rights under the World Trade Organization in the 1980s, which required global recognition of patents and led to restrictions on the circulation of generic drugs and vaccines; the FDA as a necessary but flawed organization tasked with assuring safety and efficacy of new pharmaceutical therapies; the potential brought by advances in biologics, virology, immunology, and genetics; and finally, the promise and limitations of newly formed public-private partnerships to develop drugs for neglected diseases. In doing so, our seminar will highlight a series of themes that characterize both the history and current state of the pharmaceutical enterprise: the contested role of the state in the production of essential vaccines and medicines; the historically contingent process by which pharmaceutical firms gained significant political power in the national and global economy; the growing challenge for regulatory agencies such as the FDA of ensuring the safety of new drug products amidst pressing patient demand for faster access to those new drugs; and the shrinking role of governments in assuring equitable access to even essential drugs.

Participation Information

If you are interested in participating in “Pharmaceutical Geographies,” please send a brief email to Susan Craddock ( and Dominique Tobbell ( telling them about your interest vis-a-vis the seminar. Please send this statement as soon as possible. Faculty should send this statement no later than September 23, 2011. Graduate students should send their statements by October 28, 2011. Please note that the seminar may fill before these deadlines. Those selected to participate in the seminar will be expected to make a firm commitment to attend all seminar meetings. Selection of faculty participants will be made in early Fall semester, and of graduate-student participants by early November so that participants may arrange their spring schedules accordingly.

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