The pharmaceutical industry has been much maligned in recent years. Take, for example, these price gouging scandals and the opioid epidemic. Events like this have made drug makers unloved by politicians and distrusted by investors. But as we roll out the Covid-19 vaccines, Big Pharma could have a shot at redemption.
This will require pharma to negotiate the tricky balancing act ahead. Public spiritedness will win friends and ease productive collaborations with public-sector institutions. But pharma groups will still want to make a profit. This, they say, allows them to reinvest in new medicines. Yet what is frequently overlooked is that it isn’t just the pharmaceutical giants we have to thank. It is also down to the funding provided by governments and global charities. Public-private organisations such as:
Gavi — the global vaccine alliance, supported by the WHO and the Gates Foundation, and
Cepi — the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations
… have given drug companies over S4.4bn to help them beat Covid-19. In 2009, a pneumonia vaccine created with the aid of S1-Sbn in Gavi funding was so expensive, low-income countries couldn’t pay for it. And AstraZeneca has received £84m in government funds to help develop a Covid-19 vaccine. Until now it still owns the intellectual property rights. This means companies can dictate the price and won’t share research data with a WHO initiative to pool Covid-19 knowledge.
A redeeming opportunity
So, while the sector has responded to Covid with speed and ingenuity to capitalise on this redeeming opportunity, it will need to remember these generous subsidies. Then consider the price of the end product. The drugs market is a one crying out for more state control. Medicines are a human necessity, not way to fuel a profit-making machine.