Somebody Please Buy The World Some Damn Medicine

In “Ebolanomics,” James Surowiecki writes for The New Yorker about why we don’t have an ebola vaccine yet. In short, because there aren’t enough (rich) people in developed countries who need it, so the pharmaceutical companies have no incentive to develop it. Or, no financial incentive, which is the only real incentive there is.

Ebola may or may not effect you, but the pending resistance to antibiotics sure might! And the same rules apply. Sure, lots of people with money need antibiotics and would be willing to pay for them. But we’d have to limit the use of a new antibiotic in order to maintain effectiveness, so by their nature, antibiotics limit return on research investment. Guess we’ll all just die instead.

But wait! There is some hope.

So how can we get the drugs we need without magically transforming the industry that develops them? The key is to reward companies for creating substantial public-health benefits. And the simplest way to do this would be to offer prizes for new drugs. Outterson describes one scenario: “The government would make a payment or a stream of payments to the company, and in exchange the company would give up the right to sell the product.” The drug company would get paid, and would avoid all the expenses of trying to push a new product (which you don’t want with a last-resort antibiotic, anyway). Society would get a new drug, and public-health officials would be able to control how it was promoted and used.

According to the FDA, getting a new antibiotic would cost about a billion dollars. Um??? You mean the price of one Instagram? Surely some rich person somewhere wants to have an antibiotic named after them. Pony up.

Photo via usarmyafrica