Pharmaceutical companies unethical in prioritizing advertisements over research

Illustration by Chaeyeon Park

Illustration by Chaeyeon Park

Mary Grace Reynolds, co-news editor

Between 1970 and the mid-1990s, various diseases that previously required surgery or lengthy hospitalizations could suddenly be managed or cured with the use of groundbreaking medications. This era, in which medical miracles eagerly popped up one after the other, is often called “the golden age of the pharmaceutical industry.” Unfortunately, this short-lived era waned away in the ‘90s when pharmaceutical companies recognized that their existing products and patents could provide financial sustenance for many years to come, thus adopting a silent policy of risk averseness.

The business model that these companies have employed, involving the recycling and false updating of old medication, is pathetic. Pharmaceuticals, like every other medical profession, should be motivated by saving and improving patient lives, not improving the financial means of a company. The pharmaceutical industry has slowly devolved into an avaricious monster.

In a 2016 survey released by Public Citizen, global “pharmaceutical pricing and policy experts” surveyed were asked to report local EpiPen prices. As it turns out, American pharmaceutical companies charge an extraordinarily inflated average of $609, while the United Kingdom charges $69 and Canada charges about $182. As someone who has been prescribed an EpiPen as a lifelong precautionary measure, I find it especially aggravating that my parents had to pay over $600 for something I may never need. Honestly, I’d rather spend the cost difference on the gas needed to get to the nearest Canadian CVS. Although the EpiPen is a more extreme example of the disparity between American and foreign prescription costs, infinitely more exist.

Admittedly, many intimidating complexities surface around this problem, but at the core lay a simple truth: Americans were promised that if we paid inflated prices for patented medications that revolutionary cures and research would be performed with the large marginal profits. So I wonder, is it time to revisit this bargain?

As I said, when medication prices first began to skyrocket, the opposition was tamed by the promise to utilize the money for research and development of new, life-saving drugs. However, after some digging, I discovered that pharmaceutical companies are not necessarily holding up their end of the deal.

Embedded within pharmaceutical power Novartis’s 279-page Annual Report for 2017 is a table revealing their gross profits as a whopping $32.68 billion. Of these profits, they spent $8.97 billion on “Research and Development”. Seems reasonable — right? Well, a line above shows that Novartis also spent $12.86 billion on “Marketing & Sales”. Similarly, another leading pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, spends nearly $14.84 billion on marketing: almost double the $7.9 billion spent on research, according to their 2016 annual report.

While the amount of money put towards research seems extremely generous, their generosity is clearly dwarfed by the nearly double amount of money spent on the manipulation of public opinion. Advertisements for medications like Humira, Viagra, and Cialis flood the commercial breaks broadcasted for many TV and news channels. However, the United States and New Zealand are the only two countries to permit what are called “Direct to Consumer” pharmaceutical advertisements, whose primary goal isn’t to help the consumers but to sell products.

So, I request that the government begin to regulate and negotiate with the “BigPharma” industry and pursue the policies adopted by most other foreign countries. But most importantly, I implore these pharmaceutical companies to fall back into the glory and love for innovation that was so prevalent during the golden age and to charge what their medications, rebranded to exhaustion, are truly worth — saving me a trip to Canada when my EpiPen expires in the process.