A few days back, I met a woman in a conference being held in Washington DC. Her name was Emmy and she was working as a nurse in Virginia Hospital. It was our first ever meeting but as soon as I told her that I was working with a non-profit organization, Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) to tackle the access to medicine crisis, she said, “I hate Martin Shkreli even more than my ex-boyfriend because he is nothing less than a monster. He wants to kill millions of people with his overnight drug price increases. Your organization is doing a noble job. It should unveil all the Pharma bad boys who want nothing but to fill their bank accounts with piles of money”.
This brief meeting with that woman filled my mind with new thoughts. The Pharmaceutical Corporation is generating the high profit margins but is no more ready to pay thousands of dollars on a drug invented with their tax money. According to an estimate, an average U.S. citizen who owns a home pay about $14,000 in taxes (including sales, income and real estate taxes)every year that is 27 percent of his income but even after paying a major portion of his income as taxes, the price of the medicines being invented with his tax money exceeds his affordability. That is totally unjustifiable.
Now let us have a quick analysis of what the pharmaceutical sector has in its basket. The pharmaceutical industry justifies its price gouging by arguing that it has to spend billions of dollars while developing a new drug. But the fact is as compared to $1 that is spent on research, the drug companies spend $ 19 on advertisement and marketing.
A few months back, CEO of a big drug company , Martin Shkreli increased the price of a 62 year old medicine, Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 per pill. In order to justify his stance after facing severe criticism, he simply said, “”If there was a company that was selling an Aston Martin at the price of a bicycle, and we buy that company and we ask to charge Toyota prices, I don’t think that that should be a crime.”
Up to half of all new medicines are invented at universities, funded by taxpayer dollars from government from research grants. These life-saving drugs are then sold at high prices after being licensed to pharmaceutical corporations.
UAEM’s ‘Take Back Our Meds’ campaign is focused at transforming the intellectual property policy of the United States. The campaign propagates that the majority of new medicines sold in America are invented with tax-funded research grants from the National Insitutes of Health (NIH), paid to universities. The drugs we funded are then licensed to pharmaceutical corporations –at extortionate prices thus leading to the unaffordable health costs.
Taxpayer-funded health innovations should be affordable, accessible, and available to the public in low- and middle-income countries, instead of hidden behind monopoly barriers and exclusive licenses. The simple approach is the key to open the locked doors of the US policy makers so that the amended patent laws could take back medicines from the pharmaceutical corporations that are priced out of reach. The next president of US can make a new health policy focused at balancing out a system that currently denies life-saving medications for millions of patients in US and millions more worldwide.