Big Pharma’s Blindspot: Before COVID-19, Vaccine and Antiviral Research Went Neglected
By Mike Ludwig
After reaching a new low in consumer confidence last year, thanks to public anger over rising drug prices, the pharmaceutical industry’s reputation is on the rise as researchers worldwide rush to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. A new national poll finds that the COVID-19 pandemic has benefited the industry’s public image, with 40 percent of respondents saying they have a more positive view of private drug companies than before the outbreak.
However, public health experts have warned for years that the world is at risk of a major pandemic, and advocates say Big Pharma showed little interest in developing vaccines — or even antibiotic and antiviral medications — until the latest outbreak offered an opportunity to rake in public funding and turn out massive profits with minimal risk.
Antibiotic and antiviral drugs are usually prescribed for short periods of time and therefore generally don’t yield blockbuster sales, according to Patients for Affordable Drugs. Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry has gradually abandoned vaccine development over the past 50 years as it focused on lifestyle drugs and treatments for chronic conditions such as cancer that are in consistent demand. Drug companies also substantially decreased their investment in treatments and vaccines for emerging infectious diseases over the past decade. In 2018, only 1 percent of the global pharmaceutical industry’s research and development spending focused on emerging infectious diseases, according to the Access to Medicines Foundation.
Photo courtesy of Carlos Reusser Monsalvez.