Pharma apologists are out in force

Pharma apologists are out in force

I’ve gotten a chuckle out of the recent round of post-election scare-mongering articles about how the Democrats are going to destroy the pharmaceutical industry. I had the chance to read two that were published on the weekend:

Key assertions in both pieces have been exposed as nonsense by the same newspapers. For example, Epstein writes:

One consequence [of regulation] is that it has become ever harder to persuade companies to invest in drugs that attack diseases or conditions that afflict small populations — thus exposing companies to the charge that they heartlessly put profits before patient health.

Leaving aside for a moment that this “consequence” has occurred under the Republicans, pharma companies have been investing plenty in diseases affecting small numbers of people. They’ve been so successful in charging high prices for drugs for rare diseases that yesterday’s Boston Globe led with a story about how the proliferation of specialty products is a primary driver of the rise in health insurance premiums.

The increasing use of expensive specialty drugs, including powerful treatments developed by Massachusetts biotechnology companies for rare diseases, is making health insurance more expensive for everyone, the state’s major health insurers say.

The Wall Street Journal interview was uncharacteristically amateurish. The interviewer didn’t seem to have any real understanding of the pharmaceutical industry, but rather a reflexive disdain for any government involvement in the market.

Mr. Taurel tells me how his company responded to the Prozac patent loss by raising R&D expenditures to the highest level in the industry. One of its newer products is Xigris, the first-ever treatment for sepsis, a deadly blood infection that kills more than 200,000 Americans annually…

Why didn’t he ask Mr. Taurel to comment on allegations —reported previously in the press— that Xigris isn’t that effective and that Lilly has been using improper practices to influence guidelines and quality measures?

I also liked this line:

Mr. Taurel concedes the government can play a role in funding basic science.

That’s awfully gracious of him. A better question might be whether the pharmaceutical industry can play a role in basic science and drug discovery. The evidence isn’t encouraging.

I too have concerns about overregulation of the pharmaceutical industry. But we need a more nuanced debate. Articles like the Taurel interview and Epstein opinion piece don’t do much to move the debate forward.

December 5, 2006

One thought on “Pharma apologists are out in force”

  1. Excellent points, all. I thought I read somewhere that not a single Pfizer drug on the market today was created by a Pfizer scientist. All of them were either the result of government research or acquisition.

    One point you’re touching on, in reference to Big Pharma making lots of specialty dugs, is that this is another demonstration of Say’s Law, which says that the more goods that are produced, the more those goods can constitute a demand for other goods. Or more simply, supply creates its own demand. The same was seen with the SUV craze. Nobody wanted them until they were produced in mass quantities and marketed heavily. Then all of a sudden, the manufacturers portrayed themselves as slaves to the demand. Never mind that SUVs had five times the profit built into them compared to a mid-sized sedan or a compact hatchback.

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