Sunday, November 15, 2015

It is wrong to paint all pharma companies with the same brush.

Drug discovery is a very high risk and expensive business, according to recent data it takes more than 1 billion USD  and almost 12 to 13 years to launch new, successful drug in the market. One can debate and discuss various scientific factors related with this statistics and one can even question why this process is so low yielding and inefficient but people who work in this area know that it is not that easy to point out to any single factor for this scenario. It is also true that we need new drugs to stay ahead of our contiguous battle with many bugs and deadly diseases like cancer. Industry and academia are equally engaged in research aspect of drug discovery, many initial leads come from academia on which many times small biotech firms are formed which then go on to develop some novel drugs in that therapeutic area. Even though industry and academia are both equally involved in basic research aspect of drug discovery the development part of drug is exclusively with industry. One of the main reason is that it is very expensive and tedious process with very high failure rate. So what is point behind mentioning all these things? The point is question of 'drug pricing', an ever debated and very controversial topic all over the world. I think everyone will agree that people should be able to access life saving drugs if they need it, but the question is who will pay if they can't afford it? If we look at the pricing of some of the new drugs in developed countries, specially in USA then one can easily understand what I am talking about. For example, price of Gilead's new Hepatitis-C drug Sovaldi is 84000$ for a 12 week course, almost 1000$ per pill. No doubt it is a expensive drug by any standards but it is also very effective and lifesaving drug which has changed the treatment regime for that disease remarkably. This drug is just a one example to show how effective and expensive some of these medicines are. Drug development is a business after all and like any other business this industry also tries to balance its risks with profits. There are share holders and stock market and each pharma company has to make sure that they stay ahead in game by making as much profit to its share holders as they can.

It is always debated what can be a optimal pricing for any life saving drug? Who can decide how much a drug company should or can charge for their new drug? How expensive is too expensive? How about third world countries where most people can not pay for such expensive drugs but need them as much as people from any developed country? There are many questions like this but hardly any satisfactory answers. In US there is very good drug discovery culture and basically they subsidize drug discovery for rest of the world. In most of the developing countries like India drug discovery is considered as waste of money and there is no proper mechanism to encourage it at policy level. So basically whole world is dependent on few handful countries for development for new drugs for any therapeutic area. Hopefully slowly this scenario might change but currently only developed countries are expected to carry the financial burden of developing new drugs. As I said pharma sector is also a business and like all other businesses it also needs investments and has to generate enough profits. So all other factors which play major role in any other commercial industry also play part in this industry also. Whatever is not financially attractive is not pursues no matter how important it might be, recent exit of most of major pharma companies from antibiotic sector is one very good example of this. It is very expensive to develop new drugs, and above that it is very risky only 1 in 10 drugs that enter in clinical phase get FDA approval. So someone has to pay for all those failures, industry has to recover all the money lost during development of other drugs who failed for some reason from that one successful drug. This is one of the major reasons why some of the drugs are so expensive. Actually this is not an attempt to justify high pricing of all the drugs but just an effort to explain the things so that people know the other side of the coin also.

I am sure everyone will agree that the best possible scenario will be to have affordable drugs for all major illnesses available all over the world. They should be accessible to every patient who needs them, irrespective of their nationality or financial status, but we all know that this feat is not possible to achieve in near future. With increased life expectancy all over the world we are going to see many more people who will need some sort of medicine to maintain their health. There are no easy solutions for this very complicated problem, but may be if we try to understand cause of this problem then we can understand the position of pharma industry little better. It is wrong to paint all of them as villains and accuse them of being insensitive and selfish money mongers. Drug discovery is a business so like all other businesses it needs to be profitable, it needs to be very competitive to attract talented and hard working people so that innovative ideas keep on coming. This business also needs to adjust and survive different pressures and trends of market based economy. Society, government and all companies need to devise some formula which can make medicines more affordable for everyone. Pharma industry is just one part of this complicated puzzle of drug pricing. At the same time any sort of criticism should be welcomed from industry insiders as it will make them correct some of their mistakes but it is unfair just to blame them or target them every time, definitely it is wrong to look at only one side of problem and draw final conclusions. Please try to study every angle of any issue before coming out with any final conclusion. I am sure it can be possible to keep on inventing new drugs and make them affordable also, we just need proper system and desire to achieve this.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

No comments:

Post a Comment