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The Price of Drugs – The Cost of LIVING

With increasing drug prices, what is the true cost to society? (Article written 2nd December 2020)

The pharmaceutical industry has entered a period which will test the most fundamental aspects of its relationship with patients and payors around the world.

I wonder if it has prepared itself for the battle ahead?

By ‘battle’ I mean the constant need to justify the prices of cutting edge medicines that it brings to market. Gone are the days when companies could launch a primary care drug with literally millions of potential patients and charge, say, £250 for a year’s treatment. That was easy. But what if you have a life-saving drug for an ultra-rare disease? You don’t need to be a mathematician to work out that any commercial return on the R&D investment will require a price not in the hundreds of pounds, but in the hundreds of thousands of pounds – and even more.

Indeed there are now many examples of such therapies and earlier this year, the FDA approved a single-injection gene therapy for a rare childhood disorder at a price of over $2 million. This inevitably pushes the debate into philosophical territory and my fear is that this is a debate that the industry can’t win.

Why? Because hard science combined with the need for shareholder reward does not sit comfortably in a philosophical framework. The question of ‘can you put a price on life?’ is centuries old and these recent developments only put a sharper focus on the question, but they don’t provide an answer.

Think of it from another perspective by turning the drug development process on its head. Imagine if you set out on an R&D project, not with the intent of finding a way of repairing a specific genetic fault (almost pure science), but by being asked the following question: “how much are you prepared to commit to your R&D budget to save this child’s live?”

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17th March 2022

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