Drug Companies Will Make a Killing From Coronavirus

Opinion | Drug Companies Will Make a Killing From Coronavirus – The New York TimesBy Mariana Mazzucato and Azzi Momenghalibaf – March 18, 2020

Unless we fix the system, American taxpayers will get gouged on a vaccine they paid to produce.

The search for treatments and vaccines to curb transmission of the new coronavirus is in overdrive. Fortunately, there are a number of promising candidates thanks to the U.S. government’s investment in biomedical research and development.

As the world’s leader in public financing of biomedical research, the U.S. government has the opportunity to set a precedent to ensure that medicines developed with public funding are accessible and affordable to the public; this will have enormous implications not only how for we deal with the coronavirus, but also for the crisis of unaffordable medicines in America.  

In a letter sent on Feb. 20 by 46 lawmakers: It demands that coronavirus vaccines and treatments developed with taxpayer money should be produced without giving an exclusive license to private manufacturers.

Yet that is not how our system works.

Instead, the government grants exclusivity to pharmaceutical companies to conduct later stage drug development on publicly funded inventions, without requiring that these drugs be widely affordable or accessible.

These exclusive licenses allow drug companies to enjoy a monopoly and charge exorbitant prices for medical technologies developed with public funds.

We are once again handing over the fruits of publicly funded research to for-profit corporations with no strings attached.

Gilead Sciences, famous for its price gouging of other medicines developed with public funding, owns the exclusive rights to remdesivir.

This is not only frightening but totally absurd.

It seems absurd that a modern developed country would leave the very lives of their citizenry to be held ransom for whatever price this single company decides to charge.

This is how the “free market” is supposed to work: products are priced as high as consumers are willing to pay. When a life is at stake, the price could become astronomical.

The problem is that capitalism is only focused on profit, which is often directly opposed to the public good. That’s why I believe that running healthcare like corporate business is a mistake.

In the case of coronavirus vaccines, nearly every candidate in development involves public-private partnerships that builds off publicly funded research,

The National Institutes of Health pours $40 billion annually into health innovation, and it is on track to spend billions more for Covid-19.

In fact, N.I.H. funding contributed to every one of the 210 new drugs approved by the Federal Drug Administration from 2010 to 2016.

an entrenched but misguided belief that the private sector is the primary driver of innovation and should reap all the rewards.

Recent studies show that large pharmaceutical companies like Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer are focusing less and less to research — instead acquiring smaller biotech firms with promising drug candidates that rely on public funding — and spending more on strategies to inflate executive pay, such as share buybacks.

The United States needs a system where public and private sectors work together.

This is not about bashing Big Pharma; it is about reclaiming the focus on health and the public interest in an industry that has for too long been driven by profiteering.

Ms. Mazzucato is a professor at University College London and the author of “The Value of Everything.”
Ms. Momenghalibaf is a senior program officer at the Open Society Public Health Program.

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