Monday, May 05, 2014

When Big Pharma Sells Older Drugs, Is "Putting the Patient First" Devalued?

According to a Reuters article, "Leading global pharmaceutical companies have started to view their vast portfolios of older, established prescription drugs as vehicles for raising large sums of cash to fuel development of new medicines with far higher profit margins" (see "Big Pharma stands to profit by cleaning out its medicine chests").

"The divestments could bring in more than $7 billion for Sanofi, north of $15 billion for Merck and over $5 billion for Abbott, the sources said, giving them considerable firepower to develop, or buy, promising experimental medicines."

I can’t help but interpret this trend as another example of how big pharmaceutical companies put profit before patients despite all the hype about being more patient centric.

True, higher profits may bring new drugs to market, but new drugs are likely to serve a much more narrow base of patients; e.g., targeted biologics and extremely expensive drugs like Sovaldi, which only wealthy patients can afford (see “Sovaldi - A Cure for the One to Ten Percenters”).

But the many more millions of patients who take “older” drugs are left without the kind of “beyond-the-pill” support big pharma has been hyping up recently.

Instead, they will have to depend on branded generics whose formulations may differ from the original forms and may be dangerous -- an argument big pharma often makes against generic medications. And generic manufacturers are even less likely than brand companies to offer patient support and services.

Newer generation drugs -- e.g., in the diabetes area -- can be better than older drugs that are jettisoned by a company like Sanofi, which has a good unbranded diabetes patient support program (see "Sanofi US Diabetes Team Wins 3rd Annual Pharmaguy Social Media Pioneer Award"). In that case the sell off does not have to mean that patients are devalued compared to profits, as long as the support programs remain in place.

But when a company sells its entire portfolio of drugs in a specific treatment area, it's a different story: the company wants to have its cake (claim they put patients before profits) and eat it too (beef up profits without innovation).

1 comment:

  1. PharmaGuy,

    I recently wrote a research paper on pharmaceutical companies and direct to consumer advertising. Below is a recap of my paper, I really liked your article because one of my points was pharmaceutical companies having no regard for duty of care and like you said they often place profits before everything else.

    Two countries in the world allow Direct To Consumer Advertising of prescription drugs; the United States and New Zealand. Many would argue that DCT-Advertisements encourage people to seek medical advice as well as empower consumers to have educated and informed conversations with their health care providers. However, 63% of physicians thought DTC adds were misleading and 74% of physicians thought patients were convinced drugs worked better than they actually do (Prescription Drug Ads, 2014). Prescription drugs should not be advertised to consumers because treatment plans should be left up to doctors and other health professionals, overall public health is at risk of overmedication, and pharmaceutical companies are for profit and often use marketing tactics to lure consumers. Dr. Strange, PhD, Professor of family medicine and community health at Case Western Reserve University, states, “Consumer advertising, delivered to the masses as a shotgun blast, rather than a specific information to concerned patients or caregivers (from healthcare professionals), results in more prescriptions and less appropriate prescribing” (Prescription Drug Ads, 2014). Prescription drugs should not be advertised to consumers. Treatment plans should be left up to doctors and other health professionals. By continuing to allow DTC-Advertisements the public is at risk of overmedication, while pharmaceutical companies continue to gross large profits with their marketing tactics.


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