Monday, May 25, 2020

Big Pharma Failures

A global lack of preparedness for the coronavirus pandemic has already led to accusations in recent weeks that the pharmaceutical industry has failed to prioritise treatments for infectious diseases because they are less profitable than chronic medical conditions. The world’s 20 largest pharmaceutical companies undertook around 400 new research projects in the past year, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. Around half were focused on treating cancer, compared with 65 on infectious diseases.

A 2017 plan to speed up the development and approval of vaccines was put forward by European commission representatives sitting on the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) – a public-private partnership whose function is to back cutting-edge research in Europe – but it was rejected by industry partners on the body. The revelation is contained in a report published by the Corporate Observatory Europe (COE), a Brussels-based research centre.

The IMI’s governing board is made up of commission officials and representatives of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries (EFPIA), whose members include some of the biggest names in the sector, among them GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Pfizer, Lilly and Johnson & Johnson.  The IMI decided against funding projects with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a foundation seeking to tackle so-called blueprint priority diseases such as Mers and Sars, both of them coronaviruses.

The COE report says that rather than “compensating for market failures” by speeding up the development of innovative medicines, as per its remit, the IMI has been “more about business-as-usual market priorities”. The COE report says the directing influence of big pharma on the IMI’s research agenda has led it to becoming dominated by industry priorities, and side-lining poverty-related and neglected diseases, including coronaviruses. The COE also says that as a result of the industry’s domination of the IMI, there are significant gaps in funding for diseases pinpointed by the World Health Organization (WHO) Report on Priority Medicines for Europe and the World as of public health importance, for which pharmaceutical treatments either do not exist or are inadequate. 

Seven of the 25 priority areas the WHO identified have no IMI projects, including neonatal conditions and postpartum haemorrhage, according to the report. Seventeen IMI projects relate to Alzheimer’s disease, 12 to diabetes and 10 to cancer. As important as these diseases are, there is no lack of wider interest in providing treatments, leading the report to question whether EU money has been appropriately spent.
“Clearly, these disease areas are not suffering from a market failure, as the global pharmaceutical industry is investing heavily in them already, which is not surprising, given the large market potential for new treatments,” the CEO writes.

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