From 2000 to 2009, Pharmaceutical companies reaped $690 billion in mergers and only invested 10% of that on research to find cures for 90% of the world’s diseases. The Unites States rank #1 in the amount that is spent on health care but only #37 when it comes to the quality of that care.
Author and medical ethicist, Harriet A. Washington’s recent book “Deadly Monopolies”, delves into the corporate takeover of the medical industry that is affecting the healthcare system and the future of medicine. The book also examines the role of medical patents in slowing U.S. research and inflate drug costs. Ms. Washington joined Dylan Ratigan and his panel to discuss “Big Pharma” and big profits.
You can read an adapted exert from “Deadly Monopolies” here
One of the diseases and its cure that it touched upon in this discussion is Human African trypanosomiasis HAT, or sleeping sickness. Second stage sleeping sickness is treated with eflornithine, which is given in 4 intravenous infusions daily for 14 days.
A little side story of Eflornithine and the fight that WHO and an NGO waged to get it produced. The drug was originally developed as a cancer treatment by Merrell Dow Research Institute in the late ’70’s. It wasn’t very effective as a cancer treatment but was found to reduce hair growth and, inadvertently, very a effective treatment for HAT. Eventually, it was developed and marketed as a prescription cream, Vaniqa, to treat women with excessive facial hair by the Gillette company.
The drug was registered for the treatment of gambiense HAT in 1990. However, in 1995 Aventis (now Sanofi-Aventis) stopped producing the drug, whose main market was African countries, because it didn’t make a profit. Production for the drug requires a separate facility because the process is very corrosive.
In 2001, Aventis (now Sanofi-Aventis) and the WHO formed a five-year partnership, during which more than 320,000 vials of pentamidine, over 420,000 vials of melarsoprol, and over 200,000 bottles of eflornithine were produced by Sanofi-Aventis, to be given to the WHO and distributed by the association Médecins Sans Frontières in countries where the sleeping sickness is endemic.
According to Médecins Sans Frontières, this only happened after “years of international pressure”, and coinciding with the period when media attention was generated because of the launch of the eflornithine-based product, Vaniqa, geared to prevention of facial-hair in women), while its life-saving formulation was not being produced.
From 2001, when production was restarted, through 2006, 14 million diagnoses were made. This greatly contributed to stemming the spread of sleeping sickness, and to saving nearly 110,000 lives. This changed the epidemiological profile of the disease, meaning that eliminating it altogether can now be envisaged.