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Making the prices of new drugs fairer

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: (Published 15 February 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:369
  1. Julio Sotelo (
  1. National Institutes of Health of Mexico, Mexico City

    The prices of novel drugs are spiralling, and the rises seem impossible to contain. Drugs are fast becoming unaffordable for many patients and public healthcare institutions, even in rich countries. This is a huge challenge for medical institutions and governments; the problem is so great nowadays that several countries consider it a matter of national security.

    Several chronic diseases (among them epilepsy, arthritis, diabetes, hypertension, and depression) require lifelong treatment, an economic burden that many patients find almost impossible to meet. The impressive success of biomedical research in recent decades in curing and controlling countless diseases is increasingly eclipsed by the rising costs of all new treatments, even those for simple or self limiting disorders.

    The cost of biomedical research that eventually results in new drugs is almost entirely supported by public institutions without commercial interests. Only the final steps in the design and testing of a new drug rest with the drug companies, which use the enormous amount of scientific information generously created by the biomedical research community without giving much back. Although nothing is wrong with such a sequence of events, in the case of new drugs various oddities in the way they are commercialised and marketed are of dubious morality, even if legally correct.

    By way of practical comparison, consider the development of a highly successful device, a product of scientific and technological research …

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