Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Big Pharma's Profiteering

Former Tory commercial secretary to the Treasury, and one-time Goldman Sachs economist, Jim O’Neill,  earlier this year compared the socially destructive practices of Big Pharma to the way the banks gambled with our livelihoods in the financial crisis. He warned that nationalised industry might be the only way to solve the coming catastrophe of antibiotic resistance.

These corporations enjoy massive and growing monopoly protection for new medicines they manufacture which allows them to charge any price the market will endure.

Nine-year-old Luis has cystic fibrosis. A drug called Orkambi could not only alleviate the symptoms of his condition, but could slow the progression of the disease, potentially adding years to his life. But the drug is not available on the NHS in England because it is too expensive. In spite of three years of negotiations, manufacturer Vertex is still refusing to lower its hefty price tag of £105,000 per patient.

The reasons for this are simple: over the last three decades, big pharma, like so much of big business has used lobbying muscle to secure market monopolies which vastly increase the power it holds over governments.
While the drug corporations say that these sky high prices are needed to recoup costs, the same corporations spend more money on marketing and financial shenanigans to keep the price of their stock high than they do developing new drugs.

Rather than discovering vital new drugs, scientists are employed making old medicines look like new medicines so they can renew patents and keep the profits rolling in.
Dozens of economists now believe the pharmaceutical industry is not fit for purpose. While some life-saving drugs, like a new wave of antibiotics, are regarded as too unprofitable to research, others, like new cancer medications, are so unaffordable that even the NHS is creaking under the spiralling costs. Medicines cost the NHS £18bn last year, a 4.6 per cent increase on the year before. In recent years the increase alone in the cost of medicines has dwarfed the NHS’s deficit.
In the last two years, the NHS spent £2bn on drugs where public money had funded their research and development. This means taxpayers are paying twice – first for the research, then for inflated prices the NHS is charged for the medicines. Take prostate cancer drug abiraterone, which was funded partly by the public purse but cost the NHS £172m  from 2014 to 2016, and despite a generic version being available in India for a price 85 per cent lower.

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