Thursday, March 28, 2019

When the free market doesn't work

The SOYMB blog has on a number of occasions posted on anti-biotics and the increasing risk of a general immunity to them. It has also explained about the reluctance of the pharmaceutical industry to invest in developing new anti-biotics - the low profit return in doing so. 

Nationalised or state-run “utility” drug companies may be the only answer to the lack of investment in new antibiotics, former banker and superbug tsar Lord Jim O’Neill has suggested.

The drastic measure would be intended to ensure that the development and production of new antibiotics were not at the mercy of capitalist market forces.
O’Neill, explained, “They see their job as rewarding shareholders – and it’s kind of really worrying,”
Speaking at a London press briefing on “fixing the broken antibiotics market”, he compared it to the way banks or parts of their businesses were taken over by the government after the 2008 financial crash. O’Neill said: “It’s what happened in finance in the end. If you’re not going to do it yourself, we’re going to turn certain parts of your business into being a utility.”
Proposals including “prizes” for new drug developers, a “Netflix” model that would see health providers pay for the right to access new medicines, and pricing antibiotics in a way that properly reflects their value to society, had led to talk but no action, he said.
Another possibility was a “carrot and stick” approach that taxed drug companies opting out of antibiotics while rewarding others that stayed in the game
One possibility would be for the government to take over developers that were looking for a private buyer. Another would be to acquire all the remaining anti-infection business from the larger companies. This could prove cheaper than offering multibillion-pound rewards for producing new drugs that meet a defined need, said O’Neill. Alternatively, a taxpayer-supported utility company would focus only on the costly business of drug manufacture and distribution.
O’Neill revealed that he floated the idea of a publicly owned pharmaceutical company in his first month as the government’s “superbug tsar”. Between 2014 and 2016, he was chairman of the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, which produced several reports on the looming dangers of overuse of antibiotics and drug-resistant bacteria.
He accused the industry of talking “incredible nonsense” about their commitment to producing and distributing new antibiotics and vaccines. He added: “If pharmaceutical companies delivered just a tenth of the commitment that comes from their words, we might actually get somewhere..."
The problem facing drug companies is that antibiotics, which are sold on a per-pill basis, simply do not bring in big enough rewards. New infection-fighting drugs are generally priced at between £1,500 and £3,800 per course of treatment – a fraction of the cost of long-term therapy for chronic non-bacterial diseases, such as cancer.

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