Right across the continent health budgets are under pressure due to austerity programmes. In the UK, a leading group of cancer experts has spoken out saying huge drug prices charged by pharmaceutical companies are putting patients at risk. The message is stark. Over 100 physicians have warned reasonable prices are “a necessity to save the lives of patients who cannot afford them”.
But in Jeremy Hunt's National Health Service there is no fight for reasonable prices. For example, there's no arguing that the costs of the latest Leukaemia drugs are eye watering. As reported in the Independent, Pfizer's Bosulif costs £76,000 a year. The price tags increase, Ariad's 90 grand a year for Iclusig, Teva's 100 thousand for Synribo.
What price can you put on someone's life? Quite rightly, we would fight tooth and nail to give our loved ones any chance to survive. But the real question is why these drugs should cost that much at all. The pharmaceutical industry depends on the patent system, which grants years of monopoly for each new product.
t's supposed to be about making new molecules. But what the patent system has ended up doing in healthcare is carving out areas of illness real estate that no-one else can come on to. This keeps prices high. Each area is fiercely protected and marketed. Science writer Ben Goldacre has estimated that about a quarter of what we pay for pharmaceuticals goes on marketing. This system makes perverse incentives to suppress unfavourable trial results, to spend R and D money on drugs similar existing ones to extend patents and to stop successful cheaper drugs being available.
The argument has always been that companies are given exclusive power over life giving drugs because it allows them to get back their investment.