Monday, March 26, 2012

Innovation and Alternatives

In The Truth About Drug Companies, Marcia Angell describes how she believes “Big Pharma” is both corrupt and corrupting. The current system of the pharmaceutical industry in America is a failing alliance of medicine, politics, and capitalism. Pharmaceutical companies blame high drug prices on research and development expenses, yet they spend more on marketing old drugs to physicians and consumers than developing new ones. As a result of the amount of money drug companies spend on lobbying Congress, pressuring the FDA, manipulating patents through the legal system to extend marketing rights, and influencing doctors, the consumers are left with disproportionately high drug prices.

The system in place now has also negatively affected the current state of scientific knowledge and development. There is an absence of innovation in the pharmacology field to due to the financial risks involved in the development of a new drug. While national academic and research institutions are often the sites of major intellectual breakthroughs, they often lack the resources to fund the development of a drug or bring it to the market. As a result, outside investments are necessary. There has also been a change in the pathology of disease today. Infections are mostly easy to treat, but it is more difficult to treat diseases that are chronic or accompany old age. Scientific transition must occur between the earlier breakthroughs such as that as antibiotics to new things like anti-cancer agents and gene therapies, a process that “Big Pharma” is hindering.

While there must be changes to the corporate culture that is dominating the pharmaceutical industry that would most likely occur in the legal arena regarding things such as patent rights and bribes, I believe that the creation of an alternative system to the current mode of producing and selling drugs could be a viable solution. I believe that profit and the marketplace should not drive pharmacological discovery and distribution. A parallel system that includes different entities in charge of drug discovery, production of drugs in large quantities, clinical trials to test for safety, and marketing drugs to doctors and the public could possibly decrease the influence of drug companies, thus reducing marketing expenditures and lowering the prices of drugs. However, there are many legal and licensing changes that must be made to sustain such a system. For a long-term solution, I believe that it may be a better idea to create a new, alternative system rather than attempt to make changes to the current system.


  1. I certainly wish that pharmaceutical companies were not driven by profits but rather to produce drugs for the public good. However, to achieve such a drastic change is hard for me to even imagine. I do think it’s possible to change the way they operate though. Shouldn’t profits be compensation for innovation? Shouldn’t companies be rewarded based on scientific advancement rather than marketing strategy? I agree with Angell on what she deems the most important reform, which is that companies should have to compare their new drugs to older drugs rather than to placebos. This would certainly cause a shift in how companies function and cause them focus more on innovating rather than recycling.

  2. I too was shocked to learn how Big Pharma places research and development so low on its priority list. Scientific research should should drive pharmaceutical industry, not be treated as a hindrance to bigger profits. I was especially shocked to learn about how Big Pharma basically treats the FDA as a nuisance. As Angell stated, "Big Pharma and their acolytes int he media relentlessly berate the agency for putting bureaucratic obstacles int eh way of getting lifesaving drugs drugs to market (14)." This came across as especially evil to me for two reasons. First, it's the FDA's JOB to serve as a valuable unbiased checkpoint for drug safety. Drug companies, as we now know, are far too money hungry to be completely trusted about the safety of their products. Second, most of these drugs that the FDA are taking time to ensure safety for aren't even necessary, but are the previously mentioned "me-too" drugs. Therefore, there is literally no need for these to be rushed on the market. I find Big Pharma's apparent goals for health and society completely despicable.

  3. As a consumer I find it disturbing that pharmaceutical companies are not pushing for new and innovative drugs and was shocked to learn about the recycling of "me-too" drugs. Research and development of new and innovative drugs is essential in discovering new lifesaving drugs. It is sad to think that medicine has become a corrupted by consumerism, and to realize that the pharmaceutical industry only has profit on their minds, rather than the consumer's best interest. I like the alternative solution that you propose and agree that different sectors, including drug discovery, are necessary to prevent the industry from becoming only about profit.