Sunday, September 15, 2019

Big Pharma - Protecting people is not profitable

At a time when health officials are calling attention to the rise in resistance to anti-biotics and the urgent need to develop new ones , many drug companies have stopped making them altogether. Their sole reason, according to a new report: profit.

Even though doctors around the world are warning about the regular discovery of new superbugs, and saying that indiscriminate use of "last resort" antibiotics is threatening a major global health catastrophe, almost every major pharmaceutical company in the world has given up on research into new antibiotics.

According to a report from German public broadcaster NDR, the reason for this lack of preparation for the impending crisis is simple: antibiotics simply aren't profitable.  Instead, drug companies are focusing on lucrative medications for chronic conditions like high cholesterol, arthritis, epilepsy, and cancer. Antibiotics are only used for a few days once in a while, and are being prescribed less as doctors become more aware of the dangers of over-prescription. 

Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Novartis, Otsuka and many others have all reduced their antibiotic development teams and moved those budgets elsewhere. This is despite a 2016 pledge signed by over 100 companies, including Johnson & Johnson and Novartis, saying they would help prevent the next epidemic by investing in ways to combat the rise of antibiotic-resistant "superbugs."  Johnson & Johnson have categorically admitted that they have "no further antibiotics in development."

"For me it's absolutely clear that the pharmaceutical industry has a responsibility to society" that it is not fulfilling, Ursula Theuretzbacher, an expert in antibiotics development for the World Health Organization (WHO), told NDR.

A study in the British Medical Journal last January found that one in four antibiotic prescriptions in the United States was unnecessary.

 There is also  the indiscriminate use of "last resort" antibiotics, often by farmers trying to avoid problems with livestock. A report this week in New Statesman revealed that Chinese farmers are giving their cows colistin, known as the "last hope" antibiotic, to stave off future infections despite warnings that doing so is putting human lives in danger. The report details how this practice has led colistin-resistant bacteria to travel from cows and now to chickens, which means it is mobile and can transfer to humans.

Some 33,000 people in the European Union die every year of illnesses related to superbugs, and hundreds of thousands more around the world. This week, the British government said it had detected 19 untreatable superbugs in the past decade in the United Kingdom alone. The scientific consensus is clear, with the United Nations estimating that drug-resistant infections could begin to kill 10 million people annually by 2050.

Sally Davies, the UK's chief medical Officer, has warned that a "post-antibiotic apocalypse" is imminent, one that would spell "the end of modern medicine." She has called for an "Extinction Rebellion" type of protest against the lack of action by governments and drug companies, saying these terrible diseases could destroy humanity before climate change.

No comments: