The Biomarx Experiment

“We want to maximize the number of new prescriptions...”
“We want to identify people at risk at the earliest possible point...”

Pharmaceutical marketers want to maximize the number of prescriptions in order to maximize profits. They see clinical trials as investments whose purpose was to increase sales of medicines, “Important clinical studies to conduct from a scientific or medical perspective are sometimes not important studies to conduct from a drug development perspective.” Pharmaceutical researchers openly express their unhealthy predicament: “One of the significant problems for the Pharma industry is that of the 400 disease entities identified, only 40 are commercially attractive by today’s requirements of return on investment (ROI).” They see patients as points of resistance, “Pharma’s New Enemy: Clean Living”.

It looks therefore like pharmaceutical companies have found a way to grow health via clinical trials, redefining health as treatment, in part by expropriating the means of diagnosing illness, through screening tests that tell us and the doctor that we need treatment. This means they have no interest in reducing treatments but in increasing them. No matter how obvious this might seem now, I didn’t see the connections right away, even when pharmaceutical researchers said it directly: “No one is thinking about the patients, just market share” (Bartfai & Lees 2006, 73).

Just a few substitutes and these marketers could be quoting Capital. This was not surprising in the sense that Marx was quoting the industrialists of his day. What has shifted are the terms: it is Illness as Value that is being maximized, and Health of Patients rather than their Labor that is being exploited. There is a parallel of form: perhaps marketers see unproductive health the ways capitalists saw unproductive labor. That is, marketers see clinical trials as investments increasing the extent and intensity of prescriptions the way capitalists saw machinery as investments in creasing the extent and intensity of labor hours. The grammar and logic of capitalists that Marx studied in Capital, in other words, seem to be mirrored by strategies of pharmaceutical executives and marketers.

run The_Biomarx_Experiment.prog
in all []: replace [Capital] with [Biomedicine]




Dumit 2012 Biomarx Experiment – Lively Capital

Dumit, Joseph. 2012. “Prescription Maximization and the Accumulation of Surplus Health in the Pharmaceutical Industry: The_Biomarx_Experiment” in Lively Capital, edited by Kaushik Sunder Rajan. Durham: Duke University Press.

»Picturing Personhood: Brain Scans and Biomedical Identity


By showing us the human brain at work, PET (positron emission tomography) scans are subtly–and sometimes not so subtly–transforming how we think about our minds. Picturing Personhood follows this remarkable and expensive technology from the laboratory into the world and back. It examines how PET scans are created and how they are being called on Continue reading…


»Plastic Neuroscience: Studying what the brain cares about


Drawing on Allan Newell’s “You can’t play 20 questions with nature and win,” this article proposes that neuroscience needs to go beyond binary hypothesis testing and design experiments that follow what neurons care about. Examples from Lettvin et. al. are used to demonstrate that one can experimentally play with neurons and generate surprising results. In Continue reading…


»Teach Affecting Attention, Material Thought


ANT210 Affecting Attention, Material Thought Instructor: Joe Dumit  Time: Fall 2011   The encounter between two disciplines doesn’t take place when one reflects on the other, but when one discipline realizes that it has to resolve, for itself, a problem similar to one confronted by the other. – Gilles Deleuze In this course we will Continue reading…