Friday, February 07, 2014

145.8 - Outrage of the Week: Still how they think of you

Outrage of the Week: Still how they think of you

Now for our other regular feature, the Outrage of the Week. This week's Outrage might be called Chapter 2 of "This is how they think of you." Last week we had Thomas Perkins, this week we have Marijn Dekkers, CEO of the multinational pharmaceutical corporation Bayer.

In 2005, the FDA granted approval for a promising new cancer drug for treating late-stage kidney and liver cancer. The drug, called Nexavar, is now marketed by Bayer.

The problem with the drug, as is often the case with drugs, is that it's incredibly expensive. On the international market, a year's supply of the drug costs about $69,000. In the US, it's about $96,000.

Now, that's not a problem for the rich, nor is it one for those fortunate enough to have good health insurance, which will shield them from most of the cost. But it is a problem for who knows how many people worldwide who could be helped by the medication but can't even imagine affording it - which is true even here in the US among the millions with no or inadequate insurance, who would face a yearly cost roughly double the median annual income.

Well, India, where $69,000 is 41 times the country's annual per capita income, has an answer. Patent laws there allow another company to produce a generic version of the drug if the brand-name version is not available at a price most can afford. In 2012, Indian pharmaceutical company Natco Pharma Ltd. applied for just such a license, and got it. The company began producing and marketing the drug at a cost of just $177 a year.

Enter Mr. Dekkers.

Besides the expected response of calling the court decision "essentially theft" even though it's entirely in line with Indian patent law which we can assume Bayer was aware of, Dekkers told a recent Financial Times conference that, quoting him,
Is this going to have a big effect on our business model? No, because we did not develop this product for the Indian market, let’s be honest. We developed this product for Western patients who can afford this product....
In other words, Dekker said that "We don't give a damn about Indians or anyone else in the developing world. We don't give a damn about poor people. Even though we could sell this at $177 a year and make a profit, which we know because there is a company doing it, we just don't care. We only care about Westerners, in fact we only care about Westerners who are rich enough - or have insurance companies rich enough - to pay our insanely inflated prices and if you can't afford those prices you can just go ahead and die in pain."

That is how they think of you. And while Dekkers' attitude isn't a surprise - a 2012 report from Doctors Without Borders found that most pharmaceutical companies devote only a small fraction of their budgets to fighting diseases that disproportionally affect and kill the world’s poor people, so the attitude is no surprise - that changes neither it's cold-blooded indifference or the fact that it's an outrage.


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