Historical Archive

The Big Pharma lobby. But the industrialist is not absolute evil

For a couple of decades, the pharmaceutical industry has replaced the armaments industry in the so-called collective imagination, as a paradigm of the wickedness and selfishness of which men are capable when they allow themselves to be captivated by economic profit. The epithet Big Pharma has become synonymous with a Moloch who exploits human needs for health. It is probably also because I study and teach the history of medicine and bioethics as a profession that this cliché has never convinced me. It is certainly no invention that before the advent of experimental methods to study the causes of diseases, and to control the procedures for the production, development and evaluation of the safety and efficacy of drugs, human health was worse. Vaccines and drugs have been the main means available to public health to reduce disease and death.

During the last decade, pharmaceutical innovation has contributed by about half to the lengthening of life expectancy in Western countries, and an estimated one-sixth to the reduction of mortality from cancer – we are still only talking about innovative drugs. In the West, advanced drugs or treatments also concretely support the hope of a qualitatively appreciable life for hundreds of millions of patients.

These successes require constant improvement of knowledge and technologies, and adequate controls to increase safety, i.e. reduce adverse effects, and to evaluate the effectiveness of the preparations' principles. Therefore, the tests that any new principle, which is thought to become a drug, must undergo are complex, uncertain, expensive, and require more than 10 years on average. We start with over 5,000 compounds to obtain one that will enter the market, and the average investment for each innovative drug, including failures, is in the order of 1.2 billion dollars.

Through these investments, the pharmaceutical industry supports both basic research and technological innovation, i.e. it helps economic and social progress. Even if those who lead the industry are primarily concerned with making a profit, without these revenues there would be no financial resources that feed the spiral of generalized advantages that we all enjoy. Pharmaceuticals remain the industrial products with the highest added value from a scientific, technological and social point of view. About double compared to other industrial products. Inventing and bringing innovative drugs to market requires scientifically excellent researchers and sophisticated technologies, as well as a very complex management system.

Given the need for long development times and high investments, the revenues are not so certain and stable - even if they can be huge - as the mainstream media would have you believe. In fact they are influenced by a relatively short period of exploitation

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Fedaiisf Federazione delle Associazioni Italiane degli Informatori Scientifici del Farmaco e del Parafarmaco