The health systems are not ready for it to come to them. The research in new medicines of the Big Pharma, the big pharmaceutical industry, is increasingly sophisticated and precise, and its laboratories have in the pipeline, waiting for patients their turn of clinical trial, molecules increasingly effective, but also more expensive . Drug agencies, such as the Spanish, and regional health administrations will have to make some very difficult decisions about their funding, as we saw in 2014 with a revolutionary drug that, rounding a bit, cured hepatitis C. It was called sofosbuvir, and cost 60,000 euros for full treatment. What should the health authority do in this case? Only in Spain there were 900,000 affected by hepatitis C (the multiplication gives 54,000 million euros), a disease that can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. Dwindling resources, rising prices, but increasingly effective drugs. How much money does it cost to cure a sick person? How much must be paid to save a life? That is the dilemma that is upon us.
An important part of the problem, of course, is Big Pharma's pricing policy. That the sofosbuvir cost 60,000 euros did not believe it nor a single European country five years ago, and many governments of the continent revolted against the American firm Gilead, or rather against its financial department, because the scientists of Gilead had done an excellent job . It was not understood three years ago that the financier Martin Shkreli decided to multiply by 50 the price of an antiparasitic medicine. Neither that Novartis sold its anticancer Glivec at 70,000 euros, nor that Pfizer raised one hundred of its drugs en bloc. Read in Matter how Els Torreele, head of Médecins Sans Frontières' campaign for access to essential medicines, has placed a torpedo in the waterline of that Big Pharma's cost policy. And it has done it by doing Small Pharma: recovering a forgotten molecule and developing it as a drug against sleeping sickness for a small fraction of the costs declared by the industry (55 million dollars versus 2,600 million, or 2%).
In this case it is an almost exclusive disease of a few African countries, just the subject of which the financial departments of the industry flee like the plague, in view of the practical impossibility of obtaining profits. But the question also hangs over all European countries and their health systems. Medications increasingly effective, but more expensive. The demonstration that a drug can be developed from scratch to the last clinical trial for a small fraction of what Big Pharma spends is really illuminating. And it is an argument of strength in the negotiations of the immediate future.
* THE SCIENCE OF THE WEEK is a space in which Javier Sampedro analyzes scientific news. Subscribe to the Materia newsletter and you will receive it every Saturday in your email, along with a selection of our best news of the week.