Big Pharma: profits or consumers’ wellness?



Big Pharma is the nickname that brings together all the world’s largest multinational drug companies, it is the powerful lobby that has a monopoly on our health care. The diseases that afflict the population, especially the most terrible are the source of its earnings. For Big Pharma then chronic diseases are a fortune because as we know the stated aim of multinationals is not helping others but make profits on others’ needs. Consequently, for those multinationals, producing  a drug at low cost which can be really effective in a definitive way is not a good investment.                             

We can take as example Italy and the case of Avastin and Lucentis, two drugs for the treatment of a degenerative disease that can lead to blindness. Italian authorities have found out that Roche and Novartis, two multinational companies, who sell those two drugs, were excluding Roche’s Avastin from the market to focus the demand towards Lucentis. The two drugs are identical, the only difference is their cost, in fact Avastin costs between €15 and €80 per dose and Lucentis costs €900. The two multinationals have been fined € 182 million for putting in place agreements to restrain competition and  to limit the consumption of the less expensive drug (Avastin) encouraging the consumption of the most expensive (Lucentis).  

It is important to highlight that this does not happen only in Italy, but unfortunately all over the world, in Europe, America and including developing countries. In fact, I remember that during a guest lecture in February, Mrs Anna Bertmar who provides regional operations support for the MENA region for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), explained how HIV/AIDS drugs were overpriced and inaccessible to developing countries’ populations and how MSF fought to unlock the restrictions to produce a generic production of a new drug which today is accessible to all people who need it.

It is evident that Big Pharma is the winner in Global Political Economy and consumers are the losers, because in this capitalist world where profits are the most important goals to achieve, it benefits from the diseases that afflict the population and takes advantages of the desperate needs of patients, to create unjust profits, by overpricing drugs and manipulating the competition of other drugs in the market. It conditions consumers’ freedom of choice and affect the judgments and the therapeutic choices of doctors by manipulating their risk perception of drugs’ side effects. All this to maximize the revenues.

Francesca Urso (Dubai Campus)



3 thoughts on “Big Pharma: profits or consumers’ wellness?

  1. Francesca-I really think you have brought to light a great topic. Consumers are the losers in the global political economy, in a case as such. While pharmaceutical multinationals benefit from economies of scale, are able to reduce their costs and hence prices of medicines, instead they charge consumers with a ridiculous amount. As you have mentioned, this impacts developing countries more severely. Some multinationals also use their lobbying power to ensure other companies/developing countries are unable to produce similar medication at a much lower cost by issuing patents. Medicine is a fundamental human right and I strongly believe that pharmaceutical companies should not be allowed to produce patents ! We all have a right to adequate health-care.
    Ammna Nasser (Dubai campus)

  2. Im going to play devil’s advocate here. When one considers the cost of medicine, the production cost is nothing compared to the billions these companies invest in research and development and at the end of the day they are private companies that want to create maximum capital for their share holders.

    Mohamed Hassan

  3. I agree that they are private companies and then their ultimate goal is to create maximum capital for their share holders, however what I argue is that they should not achive it using illegal methods such as, manipulating the competition of other drugs in the market, falsifing the risk perception of other drugs and as Ammna has mantioned, resticting other companies and developing countries to produce drugs with same features and benefits at very lower cost by issuing patents. This prevent consumers to choose freely between identical products that have only one difference: the price. Also, their expenses on research and development do not justify the exaggerated price of their drugs as they are actually minimal considering that they spend almost twice as much on promotion and marketing as they do on research and development. Research should be prioritized while their marketing should be drastically halved as it is not beneficial to anyone. All those drugs’ advertising that we see everyday in newspapers and television are misleading because consumers tend to be conditioned and begin to think that they are sick and need those drugs, also they omit crucial information about drugs and their proper use, as well as about side effects and contraindications.

    Francesca Urso (Dubai Campus)

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