The row over the cost of a cystic fibrosis treatment has prevented its use in the UK. These patients, many of them children, deserve better
Medical advances come at a cost, and that cost is increasingly steep. We rely on pharmaceutical companies, as well as public and philanthropic investment, to develop the medicines that can transform and even save lives. New drugs emerge not according to need, but when companies know they can make sizable profits from them. The problem with this, beyond our intuitive sense of wrongness when people reap lavish rewards thanks to products others cannot live without, is twofold. Some diseases or conditions – particularly those prevalent in poorer countries – are ignored, while treatment for other health problems may come at a heavy price.
Governments and patients around the world are struggling to cope with escalating costs. Last year a report suggested that the average annual price of new cancer drugs had almost doubled in the US between 2013 and 2017 – and would double again by 2022. Companies blame the cost of development and say they need to recoup their investment before rivals are able to pile in with generic competitors. They are less keen to acknowledge their often sky-high profits, the fact that some put more into share buy-backs than research and development, and the reality that many new offerings are “me-too” variations rather than game-changing innovations. Patients and shareholders are likely to draw the line that distinguishes a fair reward from greedy profiteering in very different places.