A major report has warned that pharmaceutical companies companies are retreating from the search for a dementia cure after “repeated and costly failures” to develop a breakthrough drug. The report, compiled by the Dementia Forum of the World Innovation Summit for Health (Wish), warned that a “history of failures” has created “funding fatigue”. Major drug companies had halved the number of research programmes into central nervous system disorders, a category which includes dementia, between 2009 and 2014, the report said. Dementia research has long suffered from chronic underinvestment compared with other major diseases such as cancer and HIV/Aids. Pharmaceutical giants including Pfizer and Eli Lilly have seen potential Alzheimer’s drugs fail in recent years, often at costs of hundreds of millions of dollars – and there have been no new treatments for dementia licensed in the UK for 12 years.
Dr Matthew Norton, head of policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said there was a “perception” that Big Pharma now feared “diseases like Alzheimer’s are too tough to crack”.
Between 1998 and 2012, there were 101 unsuccessful attempts to develop drugs for Alzheimer’s disease, with only three drugs gaining approval for treating symptoms of the disease, according to the study. Experts said that with no known cure and a huge increase in cases expected within a decade, “a massive step change in research funding” was needed. The number of people living with dementia worldwide is to reach 135 million by 2050, by which time the cost of care is anticipated to exceed $1 trillion (£652bn) in the US alone. The Wish report warns that, without a major drug breakthrough, dementia will “move from a major health challenge to a global economic crisis”.
Former Labour health minister Lord Darzi said “the future costs to societies and economies will be enormous without significant intervention now.”
Dr James Pickett, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “With no known cure, limited treatments, and a projected prevalence of one million within the decade, we need a massive step change in research funding in order to develop new treatments.”
This typical of capitalism and the quest for profits by drug companies who place the needs of investors before patients who need a cure for this disease. Under capitalism business is not interested in essential work unless there are high enough profits in it to satisfy them.
The global pharmaceuticals market is worth US$300 billion a year, a figure expected to rise to US$400 billion within three years. The 10 largest drugs companies control over one-third of this market, several with sales of more than US$10 billion a year and profit margins of about 30%. Six are based in the United States and four in Europe. It is predicted that North and South America, Europe and Japan will continue to account for a full 85% of the global pharmaceuticals market well into the 21st century. Companies currently spend one-third of all sales revenue on marketing their products - roughly twice what they spend on research and development.
As a result of this pressure to maintain sales, there is now, in WHO's words, “an inherent conflict of interest between the legitimate business goals of manufacturers and the social, medical and economic needs of providers and the public to select and use drugs in the most rational way”. This is particularly true where drugs companies are the main source of information as to which products are most effective. Even in the United Kingdom, where the medical profession receives more independent, publicly-funded information than in many other countries, promotional spending by pharmaceuticals companies is 50 times greater than spending on public information on health.
A similar conflict of interests exists in the area of drug research and development (R&D) particularly in the area of neglected diseases. The private sector dominates R&D, spending millions of dollars each year developing new drugs for the mass market. The profit imperative ensures that the drugs chosen for development are those most likely to provide a high return on the company's investment. As a result, drugs for use in the industrialized world are prioritized over ones for use in the South, where many patients would be unable to pay for them.
The sickness to be cured is capitalism.