This is a subject that, inevitably, makes me feel incredibly stupid and conflicted.
I am a big fan of free markets. However, when it comes to healthcare and the drugs business I am in two minds. While I agree that competition will probably push research forward and drive prices down I am not sure there should be a market there at all. I’m not particularly fussed about aspirin or vitamins. Those are drugs we can live without. However, when it comes to treatments for potentially fatal diseases I have an issue: A corporation, by its own nature, has a very different agenda and priorities than its customer’s health.
What is happening at the moment in India is the perfect example of this. and Time magazine picking up the issue in an article has finally brought the issue to a world’s audience.
In 1970, the Indian government disallowed the patenting of drugs, paving the way for Indian pharmaceutical companies to freely produce medicines pioneered by foreign drug companies at a fraction of the cost.
The price of HIV/AIDS treatment, a first-line combination of stavudine, lamivudine, and nevirapine, which cost patients $10,000 a year in 2000, now sells for $150 worldwide, due primarily to Indian companies’ low cost manufacturing.
In 2005, as a requirement of admission into the WTO, India reenacted patent protections for intellectual property, which included medicines. The Indian patent law, however, set the bar much higher than in the U.S.
I have no interest in the trial surrounding Glivec as I believe there is a more fundamental issue to be addressed - should corporations be allowed to set a price on your survival?
It’s a tricky subject and there’s arguments, some more valid than others, on both sides. My answer to the above question is NO.
Especially when a corporation producing drugs priced for the western world is trying to impose its trademark and prices to countries such as India.
A practical example is the cost of Glivec per life-year saved (disgusting term) $43,100
… cost of imatinib at $43,100 per life-year saved. A commonly accepted cost threshold for medical therapies in the United States is $50,000 per life-year saved.
The average annual income in India is 34,551 Rupees a year – roughly $500.
That’s a lot of years you’ll have to work for each life-year saved you can buy from Novartis.
If you can spare a couple of minutes go and have a look at Novartis’ board of directors. These are the disgusting people you can buy your life-years from.
Do me a favour. Send them all a letter. Tell them to go get stuffed