Matthew Holt

Donald Light sticks it to PhRMA and Tauzin, again

Over the years PhRMA must be getting pretty sick of Univ of Medicine and Denistry of New Jersey Professor Donald Light. He’s made a cottage industry of pissing on the commonly-trumpeted propaganda that only American drug research is effective, and that high prices for drugs in the US cross-subsidize lower prices elsewhere in the world. And in Health Affairs this week he does it again. Essentially Light shows that the added R&D spent in the US compared to Europe doesn’t give much bang for the buck, and that not many breakthrough drugs have been created anyway—something that PhRMA knows all to well as it looks at its shrinking pipelines.

In global NCEs, European research productivity was about the same as U.S. productivity in the first period but increased by 30 percent in the second period (1993-2003), while U.S. research productivity declined 26 percent (Exhibit 3). In first-in-class drugs, European relative innovativeness moved from well behind the United States in the first period to well ahead in the second. These are the most commercially and therapeutically important types of new chemical entities.

Now personally I think that, in an era in which all drug research is pretty much international, the basic premise of the argument about which system does more effective drug research is pretty silly. But of course it’s a one-two punch. And the upper-cut that would leave pharma staggering if it didn’t have control of the microphone is this quote from Light:

Congressional leaders and others concerned about high prices of new patented drugs will be heartened by this analysis, because lower European prices seem to be no deterrent to strong research productivity.20 A previous analysis using industry-based data showed that pharmaceutical companies recover all costs and make a good profit at European prices.21 Europeans are not “free riders” on American patients–another myth promoted by industry that assumes that countries are separate R&D/market silos that should each pay for themselves.

Given that Billy Tauzin at PhRMA has already cut a deal with the Obama Administration (albeit one that seems to be unofficially official), none of this matters very much. But it’s good to see that it might just be possible to reduce the very high margins earned by big Pharma without necessarily ending scientific advancement as we know it.

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