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The rising cost of medicines is not only due to the difficulty in developing them

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Kuldeep Singh
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The price of many medications is so high, and increasingly, that this may put public health systems at risk. In addition, the current system discourages research into necessary but unprofitable medicines.

It is often argued that the high cost of medicines is mainly, due to how difficult it is to develop them. However, things are not so simple.


The cost of R&D of a new medicine exceeds $ 2.5 billion (about 2,130 million euros), a process that lasts between 12 and 14 years. However, the cost of developing a specific medicine is usually opaque and difficult to verify, as suggested by a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study analyzed anticancer drugs, and it was observed that the development cost of the molecules studied was below half of the calculations usually presented by the pharmaceutical industry. Not to mention that the benefits obtained in the first years after the commercialization of these medicines already made the medicine profitable.

As Javier Padilla abounds in his book, whom are we going to let die?:

In this regard, recently, WHO has approved an initiative to improve transparency in the drug research process, although they eventually lowered initial expectations regarding the standardization and detailed publication of drug research costs.

In addition to all this, there is a kind of public-private parasitization, in which private companies take advantage of research in the public sphere to patent and exploit medicines under a monopoly regime:

(…) the public initiative was present in a fundamental and indispensable way in the development of subsequently very expensive and cost-effective medicines (sofosbuvir, infliximab, abiraterone) without implying the introduction of public interest criteria in pricing and in its commercialization so as to ensure that the knowledge generated with public funds would translate into a greater facility for access to these medicines by the population that needed them.

These issues will have to be taken into account when addressing what comes to us: the progressive ageing of the population and the chronicity of diseases in more developed societies are opening the way to a scenario of growth in health spending in the Medium and long term.

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