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Science journal blog slams drug companies for ignoring drugs to help poor

A PLOS ONE blog entry published today contends ignoring cheaper drugs now will hurt everyone down the road.
A PLOS ONE blog entry published today contends ignoring cheaper drugs now will hurt everyone down the road.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Science and medicine journal PLOS ONE published a blog entry today slamming pharmaceutical companies for slashing research and development on drugs that could help poor people in favor of medicines that cost significantly more than most individuals can afford to pay.

In the article, Dr. Manica Balasegaram from Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) notes that the CEO of German pharmaceutical company Bayer, Marijn Dekkers, was quoted as saying that the company didn’t develop a cancer drug for the Indian market, but rather “for Western patients who can afford it."

Balasegaram goes on to describe how British/Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca recently announced it would pull out of early stage research for drugs to treat malaria, tuberculosis and tropical diseases, all of which affect mostly poor countries. Instead, the company will put their muscle behind medications for cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure, all of which affect mostly rich countries, with plenty of people and insurance companies to pay top dollar for new drugs.

Drug companies insist they need stronger patent and intellectual property protections in order to spur funding for research and development needs, saying that drugs cost millions of dollars to develop. Balasegaram counters that at least half of all drug research and development costs are taxpayer subsidized, meaning that, "In effect, we’re paying twice for new drugs."

Balasegaram goes on to say that Big Pharma's concentration on developing super expensive drugs will hurt people everywhere, including those in wealthier countries. The drug companies are largely ignoring threats such as antibiotic resistance and are putting out few new antibiotics, which will likely result in many more infections that doctors have no way of treating.

The problem is, he says, "Pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Bayer lack the incentives to develop drugs like antibiotics that are only taken for a short period of time, or against diseases that primarily affect the poor."

He contents, "New drugs should be developed according to actual medical needs in a system that does not exclusively rely on patents and high prices to recoup costs."

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