Big Pharma and the Pandemic
By Salvador Sandoval, M.D.
Already a highly lucrative endeavor before the pandemic began, Big Pharma has maneuvered itself to seize further advantage as the pandemic unfolds. To paraphrase one commentator, the greater the death and destruction wreaked by the SARS-COV2 pandemic, the higher the profitability for Big Pharma.
Big Pharma accounted for 63% of total health care profitability before the onset of the Pandemic. Now soaring stock prices for the major pharmaceutical corporations involved mean greater dividends and return for their stockholders, despite the havoc wreaked on jobs, the economy, and the public’s health and well-being.
Only in America, which lacks effective price controls, and is permeated by an army of pharmaceutical lobbyists in Washington, D.C., is such a situation possible to the degree we see today. Pharmaceutical corporations spent $295 million in 2020 to influence legislation and legislators, surpassing oil and gas lobby money. Former Eli Lilly operations head and top lobbyist Alex Azar is the outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary. Newly inaugurated President Biden was among several major recipients of Big Pharma money, investments which are intended to deepen control of government expenditures and the economy.
Patent rights inserted into the $8.3 Billion vaccine package allow companies to charge what they want, prevent competitors from producing cheaper alternatives, and build on the 2002 Medicare Prescription Drug Act that bans government use of its purchasing power in bulk. Other tricks like buying out available supply of Remdesivir leave out poorer countries and utilizing orphan drug designation for drugs intended for less than 200,000 patients, when there were less than that number of Covid-19 cases in the U.S. back then. This allows Gilead to charge $48,000 per dose when $10 is the cost of the raw material for Remdesivir.
In the U.S., public tax money is spent by the NIH (National Institutes of Health) to develop new medications and vaccines. Under a “public-private” partnership arrangement these same products are turned over to private companies, which then own and profit from “intellectual property rights” for trials and further development. It is time this is changed.
We have come a long way from when the legendary Edward R. Murrow asked Dr. Jonas Salk, developer of the vaccine which eventually eradicated polio, who owned the patent. Salk’s response: “Well, the people, I would say. There is not patent. Could you patent the sun?”