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HIV/AIDS, a good investment?
Jun 6, 2007

Ben,

I wanted to get your take on what has been thrown about in hiv/aids forums I attend. I know you are an advocate for us and this is why I ask. Given the amount of money Pharma makes off of an HIV/AIDS patient, why would a cure or substantial break through be allowed? When I say break through, I mean huge loss to the current incomes that Pharma is receiving through the cost of current drug therapies. I would hope that there are watchdogs and checks and balances out there, but many of us question this. I would think some Guy/Girl would jump at the chance to win the Nobel Prize in finding a radical new approach to the current regimins that could render current methods obsolete... If I was a stock holder in one of these mega Pharma Companies, I would probably fire the CEO on any break through that was not just one that gave us just alittle bit better treatment. Not a cure or even once a week dosing..

Just curious on what your thoughts are Ben..

Thanks,

Eric

Response from Dr. Young

hi Eric,

Great to hear from you.

First off, let me say that too many people in the world and this country can't afford healthcare.

I also believe (as someone who was mentored by a Nobel laureat) that investment in new drug discovery should be valued and rewarded. If there's anything in this world that we should incentivize is should be life saving discoveries. (I'd prefer that over incentivizing the manufacturers of bombs or climate change, for example).

While drug companies make a lot of money, the proportion of their income that's derived from HIV medications turns out (in general) to be relatively small. The reason for this is that the marketplace for HIV medications in this country is no more (it's actually fewer) than the ~1 million persons living with HIV (or maybe 3 million in the "developed" world). Since only about 50% of HIV+ are on medications, we're only talking about a current market of 1-2 million persons world wide. (It really should be closer to 20 million, but that's another topic for ranting). Even the best drugs aren't used in 100% of the patients, so a blockbuster might be used in .5-1 million.

Contrast this to the tens of millions of prescriptions for Viagra or cholesterol-lowering medications, and you get the idea that for big pharma, HIV drugs don't really change the bottom line too much. (Paradoxically, this is probably why insurance companies haven't cared much about the very high prices of HIV medications.)

The exception to this might be the smaller biotech firms who are developing HIV medications-- a new FDA approved HIV drug might make a very big difference to a company who doesn't yet have a product.

So, overall, I believe that there aren't any clear answers to this; I don't think that the profit motive is the reason we don't have a cure (another different rant), nor a once-a-week HIV medication. Firing CEOs (or vice prez's) for poor corporate conduct, rather than lack of growth in profit might not get us that elusive HIV cure, but could get us corporate social responsibility that's more than just a slogan. If more shareholders held to this, rather than looking at growth in marketshare or profit, the healthcare world might be just a little better than it is now.

Just my 2 cents. BY



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