Big Pharma cares for profits over people

Raising the price of essential drugs risks the lives of the suffering.

Justin Yun, Writer

Last month, Martin Shkreli, hedge fund manager and executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals, became the most hated man in America after his company obtained the rights of Daraprim and raised its price from $3.50 per tablet to $750.


Daraprim is a medication used to treat HIV, and is on page 16 of the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines. Shkreli defended himself by claiming the exponential increase in the price of Daraprim was justifiable because the company needs the money to fund its research and development.

And there lies the problem. Shkreli has been called according to the BBC, a “morally bankrupt sociopath” and “everything that is wrong with capitalism.” With this recent scandal, Shkreli’s business history has been exposed and scrutinized by almost every newspaper and media outlet nationwide. Like Shrekli’s medication, he was put under a microscope, and analyzed atom by atom until everyone knew his name.

What he did was terrible, but let us not pretend that he is somehow a special case. A Martin Shkreli can be found in almost any industry — from agriculture to telecommunications. The question is, how do we, as consumers and as citizens, stop a Martin Shkreli in the pharmaceutical industry? Pharmaceutical companies are some of the most profitable companies in the world.


According to BBC, in 2013 “US giant Pfizer, the world’s largest drug company by pharmaceutical revenue, made an eye-watering 42 percent profit margin.” Other companies like GlaxoSmithKline and Hoffmann-La Roche have profit margins of 20 percent or more. Fat profit margins like these place pharmaceutical companies at the top of the corporate-profit food chain. There is a lot of money to be made, but there are also tradeoffs and high risks with such big numbers.

One of the most criticized methods in the pharmaceutical industry is called ever-greening.

According to Australian National University law and medicine professor Thomas Faunce, “Drug patent evergreening is the single most important strategy that multinational pharmaceutical companies have been using since 1983 in the U.S.” This strategy seeks to profit from high-selling drugs for as long as possible. Drug companies do this by claiming complicated patents when the original patent over the active compound of a brand-name drug will expire.


Companies also retain intellectual rights over their drug by changing its chemical composition, sometimes changing one or two molecules. By retaining a monopoly over the production of a specific drug, companies can charge exorbitant prices. The recent free-trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, will allow pharmaceutical companies to go after manufacturers of cheap generic drugs millions of patients need to survive. Millions of patients have died before and millions more will die if Big Pharma continues to institutionalize their actions with trade agreements and policies.

According to a recent briefing by Doctors Without Borders, “The TPP trade deal is currently being negotiated between the U.S. and 10 other Pacific Rim nations. The negotiations are being conducted in secret, but leaked drafts of the agreement include aggressive intellectual property (IP) rules that would restrict access to affordable, lifesaving medicines for millions of people.”

As citizens and students, it is important for Biolans to educate themselves on trade deals like the TPP and contact their congressman in the case the TPP is put up for vote in Congress.

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