Saturday, December 18, 2004

Pharma v. Reality

The pharmaceutical industry would have you believe, via their ads and drug reps in every hospital, that they are constantly innovating and discovering new, important medicines to help humanity. But in reality, they only look for the next Viagra: a blockbuster drug that will keep them afloat until they find the next sure-money winner.

According to the Times, "The number of new drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration has declined sharply since the mid-1990's, falling from 53 in 1996 to 21 in 2003, even as the industry has nearly doubled its annual spending on drug development, to about $33 billion."

Supposedly the companies claim to have doubled their R&D budgets, but their marketing and lobbying budgets are still much bigger. For example, in Merck's (who has been the subject of all the bad Vioxx news) 2003 Annual Report, the company spent $10,710,200,000 on Marketing (with Administrative costs built in) while spending only $3,279,900,000 on Research and Development (I included their acquired R&D as well). That's about a 70-30 split on their costs.

Of course, this is only one company, but I bet if you look at the industry as a whole, the numbers are similar. And these companies wonder why they aren't finding any new hot drugs. Maybe it is because they are too worried about holding on to their market share and profits and less about true innovation. This despite the cozy relationship between the GOP-controlled congress, the Bush FDA, and big Pharma.

If I had my druthers, prescription drugs would be prohibited from advertising on TV (modeled after the rules for cigarettes), and their lobbying of doctors would similarly be severely curtailed. I have no troubles with advertising products like Advil, where each company is trying to keep its brand name awareness up and is in fierce competition with each other. But patients shouldn't be pushed into thinking they need more pills. Nor should doctors be pushed into giving out these pills if they a) aren't needed b) aren't safe c) more costly than drugs that work fine for the patient and are already out/gone generic.

On second thought, I think it would be fine if drug companies raise the public's awareness of their advances generally i.e. "Is your arthritis giving you trouble? Talk to your doctor today. There are many new and exciting products which can relieve your pain with just one pill a day and little side effects...." You get the idea. How about they spend 50% of their budget on R&D? That sounds reasonable, not that I would legislate that but I just feel it is wrong for them to whine when it is their own dumb decisions that placed them where they are today.

No comments: