The conundrum of Pharma Research and who pays for it

The biggest challenge today is how to reach new drugs to  the poorest people in the world particularly for life threatening diseases such as cancer. Effective new molecules apparently cost a great deal to be brought to the point of commercialization and the finders want patients to cover the price of research as quickly as possible. Except that there are large parts of the world where patient cannot afford to do this. So effectively they have no access to new treatments. Fortunately for them in these parts of the world there are some very clever people who are able to copy these new drugs pretty quickly and make them available at less than half the price. And this becomes a deeply contested quarrel where words such as ‘piracy’ are pitted against ‘legitimacy’ etc.

If the developing countries such as India had relied only on the multi national pharmaceutical companies their patients at middle and lower middle levels would have been almost completely deprived of modern cancer and HIV molecules. It is the Indian companies that allegedly ‘cracked’ patents and produced the drugs in large enough quantities for Indians to benefit. India pharma is now supplying the drugs at ‘affordable’ prices in India and abroad.

So the debate that Indian patent laws need further amendment continues.

What the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has done in this respect therefore could be the model of the future. Where research is co funded and amortized over a longer period so that new drugs and treatments can be available for the rich and the poor at the same cost. I bet this sounds stupid and idealistic to most but it is in fact the most humane way of looking at this twisted problem.

A different example of cooperation is available for malaria research. As with TB this is likely to be one of the frontiers that medicine will have to breach for the global challenge to be met. Again the incidence and severity are the highest in the developing world. So the need is for cost-effective readily available antimalarial for both prevention and cure.

Novartis appears to be laying down a viable track for more than one company/group of researchers to move towards the solution.

The pharmaceutical companies are unable to fill their pipeline for ‘block busters’. They are investing less in R&D because they are finding that returns on investment are slowing down. But the growing epidemics of communicable, non communicable and chronic illnesses need a fully engaged and enthusiastic pharmaceutical industry committed to finding new treatment. “Co-opetition” gives them the new route if they will take it.


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