THE LATEST scandal over the obscene profits of giant pharmaceutical companies emerged this week with the news that campaigners are demanding that the Tory government intervene over the sky-high price of a drug, Orkambi, that could prolong the life of cystic fibrosis sufferers.
The patent for Orkambi, a drug aimed at treating the genetic disorder that that invariably leads to children not surviving into adulthood, is owned by the US company Vertex, who have priced it at £105,000 per patient per year. Last year NHS England offered to pay Vertex £500 million over five years for the use of Orkambi and other related cystic fibrosis drugs. This offer was turned down by Vertex who stated that it was not adequate or fair.
Not only that, but the company then withdrew a newer, and it claimed more effective, drug called Symkevi from the NHS approval process, meaning that this new drug will never be available to NHS patients. Dr Andrew Hill from the pharmacological department at Liverpool University told the Guardian newspaper that a generic version of Orkambi ‘could be made for a maximum of £5,000’ per patient per year! Dr Hill added: ‘It is happening with so many cancer drugs and now cystic fibrosis. The government has to have some more teeth. It needs to do something.’
The response of Vertex was exactly the same as the defence offered by every giant pharmaceutical company to justify the eye-watering charges it makes for drugs over which it has total patent control.
This amounts to claiming that it reinvests almost all of its profits in research to develop new drugs, and that it is only seeking reasonable return for all its outlay on new drugs and, that while it recognises the financial restraints on health services, health authorities ‘need to adapt their systems to the realities of modern medicine.’
But what is the reality behind the activities of these Big Pharma companies? In the case of Vertex, it bought the rights to the royalties from these drugs from a US charitable organisation the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation some years ago for $3.3 billion. Before this outright purchase, the charity had contributed over $75 million to Vertex for research. In other words, the money and risk in researching the new drug was borne by the contributions of ordinary people donating money to a charity, not by Vertex.
According to the New York Times: ‘Cystic fibrosis was not a priority, and Vertex officials have said the programme might have been dropped if the Foundation had not been paying for it.’
As for the claims that it needs massive charges to ‘continue to invest’ in new drugs, Vertex announced last year that it was buying back $500 million of its own stock – buy-back is used by companies to inflate their stock market value and ensure huge profits for shareholders and bonuses for the bosses.
With profits of over $2 billion in cash and assets Vertex is, in the words of its CEO, ‘accumulating cash very rapidly.’ Vertex of course is not alone. The same gross exploitation of people’s desperate need for medical drugs is carried out by all Big Pharma.
In 2016 the Journal of the American Medical Association stated that it found: ‘There is no evidence of an association between research and development costs and prices.’ These companies charge what they can screw out of health services like the NHS. When NHS England declared that it could not afford to pay £105,000 for every young person suffering from this terrible disease, the company just shrugged its shoulders and held out the threat of depriving the NHS of the latest drug.
What is clear is that, despite all their protestations, these capitalist companies, far from innovating in the development of new treatments, have no interest in medical advances and alleviating suffering – their only interest is in making profit.
The only way to end this obscenity is to take profit out of all health care by taking over the pharmaceutical companies and expropriating them, along with all the privateers making fortunes out of the sick and vulnerable, under a planned socialist economy.