The moral price we pay for “innovation”
Boston is known for its booming health care and biotech sector, highly educated workforce, and being a “liberal bubble” on the East Coast. But this view of Massachusetts as a liberal health care haven hides something more sinister, writes Lown Institute president Dr. Vikas Saini on the CommonHealth blog:
“The pharma sector, the pride of Massachusetts, is a bubble fed by astronomical, obscene profits. It’s not the innovative ideas, though there are many of those, nor the ‘best and the brightest’ young scientists, though they can be dazzling in their smarts, that are making the biotech sector boom. It’s the recent access to cheap capital and even cheaper hype. And predatory pricing.”
There have been several examples of pharma overpricing and hype posing as “innovation,” in the past few weeks alone:
- Price increases abounded this month, with some drug prices rising at levels four times inflation.
- The audacious claim from an Israeli biotech company that they would “completely cure cancer in a year” caused an outrage from cancer experts and patient advocates.
- Eli Lilly cancer drug Lartruvo, hyped as a revolutionary drug and cleared through the FDA’s accelerated approval program in 2016, was found to not actually improve overall survival in a confirmatory study this month.
- Despite the increasingly lax approval requirements for cancer drugs, the National Cancer Institute is advocating for even less rigorous evidence to be required before new drugs are approved.
- And to top it off, Business Insider reports that more than half of high-valued health start-ups have not actually produced real evidence to support their “innovative” products.
The consequences of this innovation boom are impossible to ignore. More and more Americans are unable to afford the drugs they need for their health and well-being, and some have even died from lack of access to overpriced, essential medications like insulin.
Saini argues that our willingness to turn a blind eye to the profiteering of local biotech is a moral failing, for which “history will not judge us kindly.” We need to be taking action on several levels — not only researching policies like patent reform and price transparency, but also advocating for these policies and marching in the streets if needed.