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No one who cares about global health can be happy with a system that only "eventually" delivers drugs and vaccines for the planet's neediest people
In the years I've edited Pharmaceutical Executive, I've met my share of hard bargainers, aggressive marketers, and tough competitors, but I don't think I've come across a single pharma professional who treats the industry as if it's just another business. Whatever the problems the industry faces, it has at least built a culture based on the idea that business success and patient benefit must go hand in hand. The results are never perfect, but if you take the long view—especially the view that includes off-patent drugs and their strikingly low prices—things tend to work out, and patients eventually get what they need at affordable prices.
But not always. And nothing is a more consistent rebuke of the "good medicine is good business" philosophy than the persistent, pervasive, debilitating diseases of developing nations. In these poor countries, millions lack access to the most basic elements of public health—clean water, sanitation, and adequate food. And the drugs and vaccines that could have a transformative effect on the "bottom billion." Too often there simply isn't an economic justification to develop them. A handful of companies have made commitments to the emerging world, but it's too soon to tell whether their efforts will prove sustainable in today's (and probably tomorrow's) dismal economic situation.
Besides, even when pharmaceutical companies' products do match the needs of the poor, no one who cares about advancing global health can be happy about a system that delivers results for a vast portion of the world's population only "eventually"—after the citizens and payers of the developed world have paid for (and benefited from) costly research and development.
That's why we're pleased to bring you this month's cover story, Executive Editor Joanna Breitstein's in-depth look at the latest developments in vaccines for the emerging world. Many of you have met Joanna over the years. For those of you who haven't, it's worthwhile to mention her deep commitment to Third World health issues—a commitment that led her a few years ago to launch a foundation that built and operates a free school and clinic in the slums of Kabalagala, Uganda. (For details, visit www.ihugfoundation.org.) In this month's article, she explores the web of public health agencies, NGOs, charities, and, yes, pharmaceutical companies that are gradually learning to align science, business, charity, and government investment to fight disease among the world's poorest.
It's a fascinating story of ongoing experiments in how to make the pieces fit and the players cooperate. And contrary to the spirit of the sweeping political promises we've heard in our recent, endless Presidential campaign, every decision and every innovation is rooted in the idea of incremental, sustainable change that starts not in the abstract world of ideas, but right here where we live.
This sort of experimentation has the potential to benefit all of us, not just the poor. Even amid the wealth of the United States, we've hit a point where most of us face the prospect of receiving less-than-optimal healthcare because of prohibitive costs. We know that the healthcare market can be transformed. Perhaps outreach to those least able to pay will reveal potential solutions. After all, pharma really ought to be more than a business.
I know that we agree on that.