Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Quest for Pandemic Recovery

Thank you Maureen Larkin for alerting me to Matthew Hutson’s article, The Quest for a Pandemic Pill’ published in the New Yorker.

The gist of it is that the system we live (and some die) under is only equipped to save lives when there is profit to be made. Here is a summary, but it’s worth reading it all.

Pharmaceutical companies are not interested in developing drugs for use with acute respiratory infections such as Covid-19. Their investment is in drugs for chronic diseases, such as aids and Hepatitis B.

Twenty years ago, many Big Pharma companies had antiviral-drug programmes. Now there are few.

GlaxoSmithKline was working on broad-spectrum antivirals for respiratory infections like Covid-19, but in 2015 the project was shut down.

Why? The capitalist economy within which the pharmaceutcals flourish demand a return on their investment.


Suppose they tried to develop an antiviral for Covid-19; by the time it would be available novel Coronavirus would have gone. Where’s the profit in that?

There will always be people dying of cancer, but pandemics arrive infrequently and don’t necessarily stay for long—characteristics that make drug research and development a commercial liability.

Because pandemics move fluidly across borders there must be global clinical data gathered from multiple countries.

The World Health Organization has attempted this with its International Solidarity Trial, but it's too limited. With Donald Trump withdrawing US support from WHO it is also too risky.

In the absence of international funding, research and development, public health depends on those who have both wealth and intelligence. For example the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome, and Mastercard pledged a hundred and twenty-five million dollars for Covid-19 research to help overcome some of the market impediments to drug development.

This is the third coronavirus outbreak in two decades. There is, undoubtedly, a fourth on the horizon.

There is no way to predict what disease it will cause—it won’t be SARS or MERS or Covid-19, but certain things will be the same. Masks will be necessary, the streets will empty, fear will take hold and people will die unnecessarily.

The only health Big Pharma will be looking out for is a healthy return on their investments.


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