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Patients vs. Profits: A look at the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of Big Pharma

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the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of Big Pharma

2018 will be another year focused on healthcare initiatives and efforts to end the opioid crisis. To drive conversation and encourage ways in which the industry can improve, let us look at the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of Big Pharma that currently exist today.  And let’s look at patients vs. profits.

Back in February, news broke that Purdue Pharma is finally doing something to combat its own destructive actions that contributed to the opioid epidemic. The maker of addictive painkiller OxyContin will stop marketing its pain medications to doctors. This comes years after the company used aggressive and deceptive marketing tactics to promote its drugs, and these actions are now being spotlighted by dozens of attorneys general across the country who have filed opioid lawsuits against the manufacturer.

As overdose-related deaths and addictions continue to be attributed to the “profits over patients” mentality that Big Pharma seems to hold, it can be difficult to recognize any positive efforts the industry is undertaking. But, it’s important to remember that without these massive companies, innovation would be stifled and the quality of our healthcare would plummet.

The Good: The pharmaceutical industry has a massive economic impact.

In the United States alone, the biopharmaceutical industry’s economic reach extends far and wide. 4.7 million jobs were attributed to the industry in 2015, and 803,000 occupations were directly involved in healthcare innovation. With massive corporate giants comes massive profits. But the good news is that more and more money is being invested in research and development efforts. From 1995 to 2015, R&D funding grew from $15.2 billion to $55.8 billion.

We can also consider venture capital investments as a positive impact of the industry. Since 2006, there has been a 130% increase in venture capital contributions that enable emerging companies to innovate and produce new medicines for patients. Companies that are benefiting the most from this corporate generosity are those in the early stages of their success. Continued investments lead to better medications and a thriving research & development ecosystem.

American pharma company Pfizer has been in hot water for illegal marketing and sales practices. But the company is also serving as an example of positive impact. Since 2012, it has invested $2.1 billion in 17 manufacturing facilities across the country, and its Global Supply team is focused on educating students on future career opportunities in manufacturing.

The Bad: Clinical trial issues can arise when companies fund their own studies.

 On average, it takes at least ten years and upwards of $2.6 billion to develop a new medicine. Because of this hefty price tag, large amounts of funding are needed. This funding has traditionally come from independent agencies like the National Institutes of Health. In more recent years, however, these independently funded studies have declined and subsequently paved the way for drug companies to fund their own trials. With a vested interest in the study outcomes because of prospective financial gain, these industry-sponsored trials create the opportunity for biased results and a favoring of positive drug outcomes over any negative side effects.

Take the anticoagulant Xarelto, for example. During its industry-funded clinical trial ROCKET-AF, a faulty blood-testing device was used. This device downplayed the risk of bleeding associated with the medication. Aware that the data would depict Xarelto as less safe than traditional blood thinner warfarin, manufacturers Johnson & Johnson and Bayer withheld this data during the FDA approval process.

Under the guise that Xarelto was a relatively safe blood-thinning option, it was approved in 2011. It hit the market without an antidote to reverse its blood-thinning effects. However, it soon caused thousands of severe internal bleeding incidents and deaths for the patients prescribed the medication. Johnson & Johnson and Bayer now face 20,000 Xarelto lawsuits because of the anticoagulant’s dangerous complications.

The Ugly: Big Pharma’s lobbying efforts jeopardize patient safety.

 As the opioid epidemic continues to ravage every part of the country, a recent report by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee alleges that five opioid manufacturers paid patient advocacy groups close to $9 million between 2012 and 2017 to promote the use of opioids.

These advocacy groups were also involved in lobbying efforts focused on curbing legislation meant to combat the opioid epidemic. Lawmakers have attempted to push through bills that would limit opioid prescriptions. But many have died because of lobbying. In 2012, New Mexico considered such a bill, but the House Judiciary Committee quickly curbed it.  A closer look at the political landscape reveals that the number of lobbyists increased to 15 in 2012. This is up from nine the previous year.  Let’s add another unsettling fact into the mix. These judiciary committee members received some sort of drug industry contributions the same year the bill was killed.

The pharmaceutical industry as a whole has spent approximately $2.5 billion in lobbying efforts over the past decade. This makes it the number one lobbying industry in the entire country. It will take more than just legislation to end the opioid crisis.  But perhaps a significant change in Big Pharma’s persuasive spending habits will accomplish it.

Conclusion

There you have it: the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of Big Pharma that currently exist today. Big Pharma is a complex industry. It boasts massive profits as well as innovative healthcare solutions for patients around the world. As we strive to end the opioid epidemic and combat other issues, let us recognize the positive initiatives of drug companies while staying wary of their practices that may not have our best interests in mind. Our very health could depend on it.

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About Anas Alaoui

Anas Alaoui

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