Monday, January 30, 2012

Medical Ethics: "Deadly Monopolies"

The Forbes Magazine's article, "Biological Shock Treatment: A Discussion with "Deadly Monopolies" Author Harriet A. Washington," by Michael Charles Tobias on 20 December 2011 interviews author Harriet Washington:

Michael Tobias: An earlier portion of your book focuses on how the primacy of commercial interests stymie or block medical access to needed medications.

Harriet Washington: Drug companies buy or license the patents of medically important entities that were developed in universities with our tax dollars, then they charge enormous prices that in the US are unfettered by government price controls. It’s my opinion that some corporations halt the testing of medications that they fear will not be profitable blockbusters earning at least $1 billion a year, as PolPharma did with the promising liver cancer drug PI-88; or some companies repurpose drugs for more profitability, if more trivial uses, as when the sleeping sickness drug eflornithine – which few of the afflicted Africans could afford – was pressed into service as a facial depilatory for women at $50 a month.

Companies also ignore or under-develop drugs for scourges of poor people in the developing world such as cholera, malaria, tuberculosis and sleeping sickness even as they pursue profitable drugs for common but relatively trivial disorders such as erectile dysfunction and gastric distress.

Michael Tobias: In your work you’ve referenced a huge discrepancy between pharmaceutical investments in critical versus non-critical drugs, and the line tends to divide straight down the middle of the developed versus developing world.

Harriet Washington: Harvard economist Michael Kremer tells us that of the 1,233 medications developed by the pharmaceutical industries between 1975 and 1997, only 4 targeted the diseases that strike people in the developing world. We’ve had 14 drugs for erectile dysfunction since 1996, although it kills no one. The one new drug for fatal sleeping sickness which threatens 60 million Africans, was withdrawn after five years in which its patent-holder could make no profit.

High prices separate people from the drugs they need as well and in Deadly Monopolies I detail how the industry’s claim that such high prices are necessitated by billions in research and development costs for each new drug is simply untrue. In the West, expensive drugs bankrupt patients: in the developing world, the untreated patients simply die. New cures are often generated from biologicals found among poor native peoples and are often tested in Third World clinics. But once perfected, these medications tend to be priced out of the reach of the communities that made them possible.

Continue reading the entire interview here at

"Deadly Monopolies": Medical Ethicist Harriet Washington on How Firms are Taking Over Life Itself

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