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The price of doing drugs...er, drug development
October 2015
by Jeffrey Bouley  |  Email the author
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Normally, when we talk about prices in the pages of DDNews or in our online venues, it’s about things like research and development—i.e., the costs of discovering new entities, poking and prodding them for potential efficacy, getting them through trials and all the in-betweens of that. Our news coverage only occasionally goes beyond approvals, and even that is rare. Discovery through trials is our bread and butter, and once the drug is being advertised and sold, it’s outside our wheelhouse.
 
That said, though, two names have come up in the news to talk about pricing of prescription drugs—Hillary Clinton and Martin Shkreli—and both of their recent churning of the waters could have a potential impact on pre-commercialization efforts. So, I’m going to step outside our wheelhouse this month.
 
Like I said, normally I don’t care about how much a drug costs. (Unless, of course, I’m buying pharmaceuticals for me and my family, in which case I care enough sometimes to use very colorful language that might put my very immortal soul in jeopardy.) As part of her campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, though, Clinton proposed government regulation of drug prices; so has Bernie Sanders, but his comments didn’t stir people up as much, because such stands are pretty much expected from him. Here are a couple industry responses:
  • Researchers and scientists across the biopharmaceutical industry have dedicated their lives to the search for new treatments and cures for patients. They do this against seemingly insurmountable odds, knowing that despite years of work on potential medicines, nine out of 10 will fail during clinical trials and the process will start over. This persistence and dedication to patients has resulted in tremendous advances against some of life’s biggest enemies, including cancer, hepatitis C, heart disease and other terrible diseases. Secretary Clinton’s proposal would turn back the clock on medical innovation and halt progress against the diseases that patients fear most. These sweeping and far-reaching proposals would restrict patients’ access to medicines, result in fewer new treatments for patients, cost countless jobs across the country and erode our nation’s standing as the world leader in biomedical innovation. —Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA)
  • The proposal released today by the Clinton campaign would do irreparable harm to the nation’s health innovation system, significantly hindering the ability of emerging biotechnology companies to develop the new cures and therapies that patients need to live longer, more productive lives. Intrusive government regulation of a system that relies on entrepreneurial vision and private capital is a recipe for failure. —Biotechnology Industry Organization
Also from PhRMA is a poll that suggests, looking ahead to the 2016 election, that the vast majority of voters (86 percent) say encouraging the development of new medicines should be an important priority for the next president and congress, with a majority of voters (53 percent compared to 37 percent) of the opinion that encouraging the development of new medicines should be more of a priority than reducing spending on prescription medicines, despite the latter being the focus of some candidates’ policy proposals.
 
And then you have Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, who made headlines globally in recent weeks for defending his company’s decision to raise the price of Daraprim—a medication used to treat toxoplasmosis in AIDS patients—more than 5,000 percent after acquiring the rights to the drug. Mind you, this is a 62-year-old drug his company acquired for $55 million. Public outrage did force Shkreli to announce a price reduction, though as of press time for this issue, that price hadn’t been announced—it isn’t likely to go back down to $13.50 per tablet, but who knows how close it will be to the $750 he was shooting for.
 
Bottom line: I don’t like the idea of painting pharmas and biotechs as merely greedy companies, given the kind of costs they incur and rates of failure they must endure that many other industries do not. But at the same time as we try to hold back the politicians from questionable levels of control, can we please shame people like Shkreli out of the business so they don’t perpetuate pharma’s undeserved predatory characterizations?

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