The Compassionate Pharmaceutical Industry – Fact or Fiction?

Desmond Tutu said:

“We are each made for goodness, love and compassion.”

When we think of “compassion” the pharmaceutical industry does not always spring immediately to mind.  Whilst the pharmaceutical industry would like to portray a compassionate image, it has an image problem. When most people think of the pharmaceutical industry they don’t think of the major advances in the last twenty years that have allowed people to live with cancer, HIV and other serious and life threatening diseases.

The pharmaceutical industry employs some of the most educated people of any industry, and yet we hear from the pharmaceutical industry that the reason drug prices are so high is because it costs so much to bring a new drug to patients – 2 Billion USD, to quote some numbers. This is supposed to include the cost of the failures. People are less convinced by the failure argument than they used to be. The industry is going to have to become smarter and fail less.

There is no doubt that the sometimes exorbitantly high price of drugs is unsustainable.  In the era of social media, it does not take much for a pharmaceutical company to lose all its moral ground when it sets a price for a new medicine. We saw that recently in the case of Daraprim, although this was an old generic drug. Another company recently set the price of its new drug for a rare disease much lower than expected – it was being proactively compassionate, and should be commended for this.

The pharmaceutical industry was certainly made for goodness, love and compassion. I hope it will be able to fulfill this calling so that its compassion can be seen to be fact, and not fiction.

Lorna Speid, Ph.D.

President, Putting Rare Diseases Patients First!

Dr. Speid is the author of Clinical Trials: What Patients and Healthy Volunteers Need to Know, published by Oxford University Press.

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