Is It Fair to Accuse the Pharma Industry of Neglecting Tropical Diseases?
Thursday, October 15, 2015
When pharma company Sanofi Pasteur was criticised last month for ceasing its production of Africa’s only snakebite anti-venom, the spotlight fell once again on the industry’s apparent lack of interest in the developing world.
“It didn’t fit with their business model,” explains Katy Athersuch, medical and innovation policy advisor at Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which she says favours higher margin drugs. An alternative supplier has been found but won’t be ready until at least 2017. That could mean two years of unnecessary deaths (which some estimate run to 125,000 a year).
An underfunded problem
According to the Lancet Commission on Investing in Health, much of the burden posed by NTDs could be prevented for an annual cost of between $300m and $400m. It’s not a huge sum in global terms – the global pharma industry is worth $300bn – yet current efforts fall well short.
In fact pharma research and development investment in NTDs actuallyfell by $193m (£127m) in 2013. And pharma companies have been accused of “not pulling their weight”, contributing just 12% of global funding, a decrease of $74m since 2010.
“We have a problem across the board of R&D,” says Athersuch. She refers to Pfizer’s withdrawal from all anti-infective R&D in 2012 and the 2014 closure of Astrazeneca’s Bangalore plant which had focused on tuberculosis (TB). Athersuch blames the consolidation of the pharma industry through mergers and acquisitions, pushing companies to compete “for the mega-bucks of blockbuster drugs sold in the US, Europe and Japan”. As a result, “NTDs look less commercially attractive”.
- Health Care