The pharmaceutical industry has no shortage of money or legal protection, and it is ready, willing and able to take on anyone who might oppose the status quo.
Make no mistake; the pharmaceutical industry has done a tremendous amount of good by developing remedies for afflictions that plague millions of individuals.
But don’t be naïve, either; it’s not an industry that is entirely benevolent. The goal of Big Pharma goal isn’t just to heal people—it’s to turn profits, which can sometimes result in cross purposes and even negative health effects.
One major way this shows up is in high prices for many medicines. A pill containing ingredients that cost only a few cents is often the result of a process that took millions of dollars to develop. Big Pharma naturally wants those figures to be reflected in the price.
Extensive patent protection on products sold at premium prices allows pharmaceutical companies to block the production of cheap generics long enough to recover the huge costs involved in research and development.
And to be fair, creating new drugs and getting them to market is a financially risky endeavor. Understanding that, many governments are quite willing to allow sky-high drug prices.
It is not at all uncommon for a new drug patent to last 20 years. Only after the patent expires can competing firms begin offering generic versions that drive down the price.
In the meantime, patent protection makes medical treatment unaffordable for many. When faced with the choice between food and medicine, those who suffer will often understandably choose to eat rather to get well.
This is a particularly important issue in the developing world, where few can afford to pay high prices. The World Trade Organization mandates that its members respect pharmaceutical patents, though it does offer some wiggle room in the interest of public health before a patent’s expiration date.
Because companies sell the drugs at different prices in different countries, there has developed in many places a secondary market in importing medicines from somewhere they are cheaply available to a more expensive country. Bringing prescription drugs into the United States from Canada or Mexico is one common example.
Drug companies also aggressively use the legal field to discourage unwanted attention. They have some influence over theoretically independent agencies, such as academic research groups or conferences, because they have the dollars to fund them. Those who wish to publish papers critical of their efforts may risk being threatened with lawsuits.
Of course, drug companies also use their financial might and legal power to create significant barriers to entry for newcomers in both conventional and alternative medicine. Herbal remedies and dietary supplements are prohibited from claiming medicinal effects unless they meet rigorous standards and survive extensive testing, which can take decades and comes at a high cost.
Protection of intellectual property is another major concern of drug companies, along with protecting the markets of a particular drug, even if such defensive actions mean fewer folks can access cures. Sometimes, the nature of business trumps the reason drugs are manufactured in the first place.
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