Government puts profit before peoples health | The Jackal

9 Aug 2012

Government puts profit before peoples health

Today, the NZ Herald reported:

The multibillion-pound pharmaceutical industry has spent the last decade developing new drugs which have produced little benefit and caused considerable harm, experts say.

The claim that there is an "innovation crisis" in pharmaceuticals because of the difficulty and expense of discovering new drugs is a myth fostered by an industry whose chief focus is on marketing, they add.

Counter to drug industry claims that the pipeline of new drugs is running dry, the number of new drugs being licensed each year has remained at between 15 and 25. But most involve minor tweaks to existing drugs, designed to grab a slice of an existing market rather than offering genuine therapeutic innovation.

Independent reviews suggest 85 to 90 per cent provide little benefit over existing treatments with some, such as Vioxx, the painkiller, and Avandia, the diabetes drug, causing serious side effects which led to their withdrawal in Europe.


"This is the real innovation crisis: pharmaceutical research and development turns out mostly minor variations on existing drugs and most new drugs are not superior on clinical measures. [They] have also produced an epidemic of serious adverse reactions that have added to national healthcare costs," they say.

The other problem here is that without adequate generic drugs, ensuring people are medicated properly becomes a lot more expensive. Drug companies would of course like to corner the market and eliminate competition by ensuring generic drugs have more hurdles to pass through before being approved for general public use. However the article goes on to say:

Researchers from the London School of Economics in Britain argue that drug manufacturers should be made to demonstrate their products are superior to existing treatments before being granted a licence, rather than, as now, superior only to a placebo.

Superior to a placebo means new generic drugs only have to show a slight positive effect, meaning that approval methods are inadequate, which gives rise to unfortunate events like this one where a young woman died of side effects from a cancer vaccination.

The problem lies with the licensing system on new drugs and the patenting system on existing drugs. The patenting system is inhibiting new developments by companies that don't own rights and the licensing system is ensuring cheaper generic drugs often have little therapeutic value. Those caught in the middle of this dysfunctional dichotomy are governments and the consumer.

Governments these days are looking to reduce costs by favouring generic drugs, which have been shown to be dangerous on numerous occasions. As the article points out, this adds considerably to national health costs by increasing recovery times and creating secondary health problems from side effects. It could be that the additional costs caused by inferior drugs are more than the initial savings the government makes.

The real meat in the sandwich though is the consumer, who has to pay extra for prescription fees for existing drugs that are known to work, or run the risk of using a generic drug that is likely to not work as well and/or have increased adverse side effects. As usual it will be the poor and minority groups who are adversely effected the most. Even before the increase in part charges from $3 to $5 per script, 14% of Māori do not pick up prescriptions because of the cost.

How big is the problem you might ask... There's already been thirty drugs that have been recalled by the US Food and Drug Administration this year, which is a 7% increase on 2011. The problem is getting worse not better. Current government policy to increase user pays and further rely on unsafe generic drugs will increase the numbers of poor people not being medicated properly. llness reducing productivity will undoubtedly undermine any economic recovery National hopes to have while they're still in power.