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David Mittleman
David Mittleman
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Drug manufacturers pursue profit over innovation

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Over the next few years, the cost of prescription medications for some of the most prescribed drugs will plummet. The pharmaceutical industry’s biggest name drugs, including Fosamax, Risperdal, and Lipitor, will all lose patent protection and be available for generic reproduction. This is a tremendous benefit to the consumer. The pharmaceutical industry would like everyone to believe they only exist to provide new and innovative medications for the benefit of mankind. A review of the type and number of new medications approved for production over the past 20+ years shows an industry motived by profit and not altruism.

The LA Times details the history of one of the best known heartburn medications, Zantac, and how it became to be so well known. Zantac’s manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), saw the development of Tagament, the first medication to heal an ulcer, and decided they wanted a piece of the action. Rather then innovate and design their own drug, GSK simply changed the medical formula of Tagament just enough to get a patent of it’s own to produce Zantac.

To insure Zantac would be used more than Tagament, GSK charged 50% more for Zantac and rolled out a massive advertising campaign touting Zantac’s ability to treat ulcer’s and heartburn. Zantac was introduced in 1983, and by 1988 it was the industries biggest selling drug. It could be that GSK was really interested in helping people who suffered from heartburn or ulcers, but GSK’s actions make it difficult to believe such a tale.

This may be why so many drug company executives come from sales backgrounds. Pfizer became well known under the direction of a former Pfizer sales representative. During the 1990’s, Pfizer created an in-house program putting scientific researchers and drug marketers together to develop new pharmaceuticals. Pfizer’s top scientist, Dr. John F. NiblackIt, claimed the purpose was “to make sure that research is not developing something that no one particularly wants.” Sure, because what the consumer really wants is six erectile dysfunction drugs when there are already five on the market.

The pharmaceutical industry always claims that it charges a ridiculous amount for it’s medications because they need to make sure they are innovating newer and better drugs. If only that were true. From January through October 2007, 14 new medications were approved. Of those, only 6 were considered to be non-standard. This means that a majority of the new medications that were approved in 2007 were all minor changes to existing medications.

It has long been believed that the pharmaceutical industry is only out to make a profit. A review of the development of new medications and how they are marketed over the past 20+ years demonstrates the truth of that belief. All stereotypes are based upon fact, but in this case, the stereotype is the fact.