The good news is that there are some promising mechanisms that might work. One of these are the research consortia that are doing the basic scientific research needed to design drugs that have a hope of surviving clinical trials. This research enterprise is far too large for any one firm to conduct on its own. These consortia include the International HapMap Project
and the Structural Genomics Consortium
Both groups involve collaborations of industrial and academic scientists, working at various sites. Funding comes from industry, governments and private foundations. All discoveries are placed in the public domain, with no restrictions placed on their use. I am heartened by how much work that they have accomplished on very modest budgets. (Sometimes its hard to get academics to play nice together!)
Of course the basic research is only the first step in the process of getting a useful drug to market. The next step is to use this basic research to develop and identify drug candidates. I am not familiar with any consortia doing work in this area. Once a candidate has been found, however, David Levine suggests that firms bid for the right to pay for and conduct clinical trials on the candidate. Bids consist of royalty rates that would accrue to the winner from all firms selling the drug, should the drug clear all the clinical trials. The lowest royalty rate wins.