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New Scientist (June 2019): Who will Pay?
THIS week, protesters in England continued to call for access to a medicine called Orkambi. The drug delays the progression of the genetic disorder cystic fibrosis, but it carries a price tag of £104,000 a year. Like many other countries, England’s health service has baulked at this cost, and the drug is currently only available privately.
Some families have now formed a “buyers club” (see page 9), which is hoping to source a cheaper, generic version of the medicine from Argentina. Such clubs are becoming more common: in recent years, groups have formed to source drugs that treat hepatitis C and lower the risk of contracting HIV.
But even when clubs can source cheaper drugs, the costs remain unaffordable for many people. Some families are now calling for the UK government to circumvent the patent on the drug and provide the generic version in England through the National Health Service.
As one of the largest single markets for healthcare products in the world, the NHS has significant clout, and it is often argued that it should take a harder line with multinational drug companies. But the UK government is unlikely to take strong action amid the political turmoil of Brexit. Were drug companies to stop investing in medical research in the UK, this would come as a heavy blow.
Drug firms say they charge high prices to recoup their research costs. It is easy to criticise these for being too high, but we are now starting to see what happens when firms are unable to profit from their research. After decades of fruitless clinical trials, major drug firms are closing their specialist Alzheimer’s units.
It is now difficult to see how promising drug candidates for the disease will reach clinical trials (see page 7). We depend on private companies to develop treatments, but their need to profit has far-reaching consequences. For many years, the lack of new antibiotics has been the primary example of the problems with this system. Unfortunately, the list of examples is now growing.
|New Scientist (June 2019): Who will Pay?|