Category Archives: Big Pharma

Wonder Drug Inspires Deep, Unwavering Love Of Pharmaceutical Companies

Just kidding. That’s the title of a satire I found buried in the Onion archives. Pretty darn funny.


HIV positive babies?

Sounds like an oxymoron, right? Well, sadly, it’s not. HIV transmission from mom to baby (affectionately referred to as Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV) has almost been eliminated in wealthy countries due to effective prevention strategies but the same can’t be said for many poor regions. While the reasons for this are complex, one factor remains: there is very little market incentive for pharmaceutical companies to develop paediatric HIV drugs that are appropriate and safe.

Thankfully, the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi)a not-for-profit organization that uses an alternative model to develop medicine for neglected diseases–is doing something about it. On July 18th at the 6th International AIDS Society (IAS) Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention, DNDannounced the launch of a new program that aims to address this unmet need. More details can be found here. According to Dr. Bernard Pécoul, the Executive Director of  DNDi:

There are millions of children with HIV/AIDS in low- and middle-income countries, but their needs are absent from the HIV research and development agenda, and this is largely because they are poor and voiceless and do not represent a lucrative marketWorking with partners, we hope to help fill this terrible gap and offer improved treatment options for children with HIV/AIDS.

I can imagine a world where more people are able to live a healthy and fruitful life. Ideally, this begins with a healthy childhood. Props to DNDi for refusing to accept such a grim global reality.

Gilead to license several HIV/AIDS drugs to the Medicines Patent Pool

On July 12th Gilead, a US-based pharmaceutical company, announced their plans to license four HIV drugs and one fixed-dose combination to the Medicines Patent Pool. This marks the first agreement between the Medicines Patent Pool and a pharmaceutical company. (woohoo!) Although this is a significant step toward increasing global access to affordable meds, a few concerns remain. The agreement limits manufacturing to one country – India – which in turn limits competition (an important mechanism to drive costs down) and people living in middle-income countries – including China and Brazil – are excluded. You can find a more detailed explanation here.

Wondering what a patent pool is? This animation explains it nicely.

Roche Wins as High Court Limits University Patent Rights

The United States Supreme Court recently announced their decision on a landmark case revolving around university patent rights on life-saving medical technologies. The technology in question, quantitative polymerase chain reaction (real-time PCR), is a highly effective tool in diagnosing infectious diseases and detecting new and emerging threats.

Originally developed by Stanford scientist Mark Holodniy, advancements in real-time PCR were claimed to be owned by the university, under the conditions of the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act that outlines universities’ legal rights for research funded by the federal government. Holodniy later signed agreements that transferred ownership of his PCR work to Cetus Corp, now owned by Roche Pharmaceuticals. Stanford argued that the Bayh-Dole Act superseded any agreement made afterwards by Holodniy and Cetus.

However, in the ruling led by Chief Justice John Roberts, it’s said that the 1980 law doesn’t displace the historical principle that inventors are allowed to have first claim on their work. This decision will certainly affect future cases of patent ownership and potentially all technologies that were jointly developed through federal funding, university research and industry collaboration.

The patent for real-time PCR will be held by Roche until 2021.

For more coverage on this case, the full article by Bloomberg News is available here.

A press release by Roche on the court’s ruling can be read here.

CIHR Reverses Drug Trial Policy

Canada’s national funding agency for health sciences, CIHR, made a controversial move to cancel a policy that required full public disclosure on results from drug trials. Without full disclosure of study results, the public may not be privy to important early details about drugs that may be ineffective or worse, significantly toxic. Transparency, a necessity for gathering evidence and truth in making healthcare related decisions, is believed to have been further undermined by the lobbying efforts of Canada’s pharmaceutical corporations. CIHR has increasingly drawn fire for its closeness with industry, having appointed last year an executive from Pfizer to their national board. Quoting Sir Iain Chalmers, co-founder of the U.K.’s respected Cochrane Collaboration research body: “It seems to me that CIHR has decided that it’s going to put my interests and the interests of other patients behind those of industry…. I think that’s tragic.”

The full article by the National Post is available here.

UNICEF Begins to List Prices Paid for Vaccines

UNICEF recently announced that it would list the prices paid for vaccines to pharmaceutical corporations and it’s now available online. The decision to withhold this information until recently came out of a concern to avoid confrontation with pharmaceutical organizations. This is not a surprising demand by the industry, considering that increased transparency on the true costs of treating illnesses has protected them from a level of scrutiny and competition that would undoubtedly lead to calls for lower prices.

For more details on UNICEF’s announcement, visit the New York Times article here.

Drugs and Profits: NYT Op-Ed on Avastin

Dr. Frederick C. Tucker recently wrote an opinion on the state of Avastin–a very expensive anti-cancer drug designed to suppress the growth of breast cancer tumors when used jointly with primary chemotherapy drugs such as Taxol. Avastin received accelerated approval by the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but is now known for having significantly toxic side effects that outweigh quality of life, does not lengthen patient lives and whose approval is likely to be revoked.

Avastin itself is part of a new class of modern drugs generally referred to as biologics–medicines derived from an organic source. Akin in the way that vaccines are derived from pathogenic bacteria or viruses, many new biologic drugs are derived from recombinant DNA. The value of biologics has largely been contested and in cases like Avastin, where it costs an additional $90,000 to treat one cancer patient a year, we might ask why we are willing to spend so much on a drug that neither improves the quality of life nor extends it?

Now that Avastin’s effectiveness as an anti-cancer drug is questioned, Genentech, Avastin’s manufacturer, is frantically trying to find a way to hold its market share by commissioning more studies to demonstrate improved quality of life or prove it’s value for treating another unrelated illness–macular degeneration. As Dr. Tucker writes, drug companies are better off spending their money on discovering a genuinely innovative medicine instead of marketing a failed one.

Dr. Tucker’s full op-ed on the case of Avastin can be read here.