I have a lot of opinions about this one, lol. I don’t think a company owes it to give away a cure. It’s reasonable for them to make money on a drug given the costs and risks involved in finding it.
However, what currently goes on in the specialty drug space isn’t working, in my opinion. Martin Shkreli (sp?) was the poster child but lots of companies engage in behavior that I don’t condone. Tons of examples.
Cyclophosphamide (a nitrogen mustard akin to mustard gas, just fyi) was a drug that came out in ~1960 and went generic long ago. Two of three manufacturers stopped making it, wasn’t any money in it. And that left one manufacturer, who increased the price 15% per quarter for a decade.
Look at the current landscape around Ibrance, Verzenio, and Kisqali. Three drugs that are pretty similar in terms of safety and efficacy - Kisqali may be slightly less good. Same for Neulasta and the biosimilar drugs on the market, or even Neupogen is often preferable. But what happens in these markets? Prices don’t go down. Rather, the manufacturers put pressure on physicians to use their drugs by offering incentives. In the case of Neupogen, they offered massive rebates - they literally paid doctors to prescribe more expensive drugs. Yep, that’s legal. Medical oncologists derive ~70% of their income from drug margin, on the order of $400k/year+ per physician.
So many examples. Look up Zaltrap, $11k per month for very, very little clinical benefit, and they only cut the price when hundreds of oncologists boycotted the drug very publicly in the NYT (link below, you don’t need to be a subscriber). Manufacturers used to (maybe still do, don’t know) charge more for CAR-T cell therapy in pediatric patients. It’s the same drug, but people will spend more on sick kids. Patents are supposed to last a set amount of time (12-17 years I think is typical for drugs) but they can be extended for several years with the right legal strategy.
This all happens because of how markets exist, at least in the US. Consumers are often in no position to know that a cheaper drug exists that is still safe and effective. Physicians aren’t often incentivized to reduce cost - although that is slowly changing. It’s not an Econ 101 market where information is symmetrical and barriers to entry are low. Hell, Medicare can’t even negotiate drug prices, at all, due to an act of congress.
That’s probably enough soap-boxing for one post.