Spotlight |

How Big Pharma is making people pay twice for many of the medicines they buy

Let’s try to explain all the ways that pharma is… double-dipping in taxpayers’ pockets for the medicines they sell us.

R&D public investment
Every year, taxpayers pour millions into medical research

1. First we, the public, give generously when research funded by our taxes is given to corporations to develop new drugs

Every year, US taxpayers fund medical research to the tune of US$39 billion, while – on the other side of the Atlantic – European taxpayers also contribute a further $28 billion toward the same purpose.. By adding what taxpayers in Japan, China, India, South Korea, Australia and Canada are paying, we end up with around $100 billion in global taxpayer-funded research, every single year, that takes place in government research institutes and in public universities.

2. We also contribute to clinical trials using public resources

Around the world, public hospitals are used to conduct clinical trials. So that means our doctors, nurses and patients themselves are all contributing to the development of new drugs.

3. Then come the tax breaks for pharma

And our governments give hefty tax breaks to these corporations that are already rolling in cash. In many countries, tax breaks are even given on any company income derived from patents, independent of their research and development expenditures.

4. And the special privileges

As a further sweetener, governments often grant corporations special privileges, giving them fast-tracked quality, safety and efficacy review, which allows them to make more money sooner.

R&D pharma revenue
Big Pharma revenues

5. And after all that big pharma get to charge whatever prices they want

When the drug finally reaches our pharmacy or hospital, we pay again when we buy the medicines either as individuals, through our insurance or social security.

Pharmaceutical corporations are charging increasingly higher prices for medicines that wouldn’t have even been possible without our contributions as taxpayers!

That’s because our governments just give away this research and grant the corporations monopolies without even asking for something in return. Do taxpayers know how much they have already paid to invest in the development of these products? And how do we make sure that they are affordable and accessible? Our contribution as taxpayers is practically invisible while pharma is given a blank-cheque to charge whatever price they want.

High prices come at a high social cost

Unfortunately, at MSF, we often struggle to afford new treatments and vaccines for our patients, even if they were developed with research and development contributions from the public. We struggled to afford new antiretrovirals to treat HIV in the late 90s and early 2000s, and we currently struggle to afford new treatments for drug-resistant tuberculosis. This used to be a problem facing only developing countries. Not anymore.

Even in wealthy countries people are now unable to afford many of the treatments they need.

In Europe we have seen high medicine prices lead to rationing and even lotteries to determine who will and who won’t get a medicine!

This isn’t right. But what can be done?

We can’t change this all in one day. But there are two things we can do right now to set medical research and development on the right track:

First, we need real transparency. We must find a way to make Big Pharma tell us what it really costs to develop and produce drugs so that we know what a fair price should be.

Second, the public pay, so the public should have a say. If drug corporations are using research funded by our taxes, then we as the public should have a say in making sure that those medicines are affordable and accessible to everyone in need.