The most profitable drugs may also be the most critical. With medical research finding potential cures, how long will pharmaceutical companies be able to prioritize expensive drugs over cures?
The pharmaceutical market is vast and profitable, but exactly how valuable is it?
The answer to that question is in the billions, but luckily for us, FiercePharma has recently released a report on their projections for the top 20 drugs in 2020. If you are inclined to do the math, you can count up just how many billions of dollars the top 20 drugs will be worth by then.
I gave up after four or five when the number had exceeded $40 billion.The top 20 #drugs will be worth $40 #billion USD by #2020Click To Tweet
The data was gathered, and the picture it paints is not the best to look at. In more than one way, the pharmaceutical industry is stressing cost over cures.
Here are 5 Predictions for Drug Sales by the Year 2020:
1. Age-Related and Critical Diseases
Beyond sales projections, the numbers in the report indicate a sobering fact about our society: we are profiting off of the most medically vulnerable in our society.
The top five all treat severe conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, hepatitis C, and cancer. One of the drugs is a mega blockbuster vaccine that may make as much as $6.9 billion in sales as it keeps people safe from pneumococcal viruses. The top spot goes to Humira, which treats rheumatoid arthritis.
By assigning such a high value to treatment, companies in effect also discourage healthcare providers from opting for preventative care and more complete cures by making them less profitable. The drug industry is compelled to satisfy their bottom line, and are ultimately responsible to their shareholders. These incentives create a situation where people are viewed as consumers instead of patients and where companies prioritize sales over cures.
Logically speaking, why would a pharmaceutical company cut themselves out of business with a cure when a treatment is more profitable?
For some, that means that critical drugs will require more cash to acquire. For the elderly, that means that high costs could be the difference between being able to move around comfortably or not.
Mylan showed us an extreme example of this kind of medical paywall in 2016 when they marked up the price of EpiPens by 400%, and we all know of the infamous Martin Shkreli who became the ‘most hated man in America’ when he raised the price of the drug Daraprim from around $15 to $750.
Nobody is disputing the effectiveness of modern drugs, but if the pharmaceutical industry is going to succeed, it may just try to do everything it can to keep the cost of treatment high and the potential not to need it low.
2. Genetic Diseases
The pharmaceutical industry has its bottom line, but medical research doesn’t necessarily dance to their tune. Despite the fact that the two fields are virtually inseparable, other methods can deal with many of the issues that the top drugs are designed to manage.
For example, CRISPR and other editing/therapy technologies would address and even cure many of these diseases. The CRISPR/Cas genome editing system can confer additional resistance to external genetic structures, making a patient’s natural immune system strong enough to stave off conditions that the pharmaceutical companies are making billions off of in drug sales.
Technologies like CRISPR gene editing are promising, but they represent a threat to the profitability margins of big pharmaceutical companies. Also, these brand new technologies are still in the experimental phase, so some doubt about their sustainability is in doubt.
By contrast, the drug companies have mastered the art of putting a product on the market. Secondly, they have plenty of talent in their R&D labs that can easily keep up with those few scientists on the edge of science that isn’t yet scalable enough for commercial release.
3. Infectious Diseases
Remember the vaccine I mentioned earlier? Vaccines only represent one spot on the list, but 5th place is a decent place. Around the world, governmental policies are making it likely that the number of vaccines at the top of the pharmaceutical pile are likely to rise due to policies like this law that the Italian government is preparing to enact for 2017-19 requiring mandatory immunizations, especially for kids entering public schools (break out your translator, folks, this story is only covered in Italian).
Vaccines have solid science backing their effectiveness, and as more developing countries worldwide improve their infrastructure and education systems, they are going to need to look into vaccines as a way to keep their populations healthy.
4. Drug Sales Regulation
In general, regulation is a volatile variable. It is likely to have an impact on any research into cures, drug sales, the pharmaceutical industry as a whole, and consumer access in the US.
With the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act in the U.S., and limits on Medicaid, it may become that much harder for people to get the drugs or treatment that they need. I doubt that we can ever find a perfect balance for regulations on the pharmaceutical industry, and I attribute that to the radically different viewpoints of the American political machine. Either way, we can expect that the future of politics will have ripple effects in the drug sales industry.
In the same vein, regulation will have an effect on medical research into cures and preventative treatment. You never know when the political winds will shift and certain avenues of research will be slowed or halted in their tracks. Take stem cell research, for example, which saw a slow down amid ethical concerns over where those stem cells were coming from.
Ultimately, regulation can be the final factor in how successful a drug is going to be. They are often the public’s response to a drug or treatment, and companies have an odd way of leveraging their consumer base to overcome any loss of profit from those regulations.
5. A Bridge to Better Treatment
Advanced and still highly experimental techniques like CRISPR are promising but they are not commercially viable or safe. They probably won’t be for awhile.
That means that the treatment route via pharmaceuticals, albeit expensive, will still be the cheaper, safer and only option for a little bit longer. One thing you can say for the pharmaceutical industry is that they are established, and until newer technologies are scalable enough to become something more than experimental treatments and procedures, we can rely on drug companies.
Likely, these companies will never truly fade away. They dominate the market for medical treatments, and our reliance on them is going to cement that in place for years to come.
So, pharmaceutical companies may be raking in the cash in the foreseeable future, but preventative care and cures are being researched, so we can hope that this rampant money-making is something like the sputtering of a candle flame before it goes out. It is unlikely that the drug industry will ever completely go away, but as the average lifespan gets longer and generation after generation lives longer, it may ultimately serve as a bridge to better treatment. Until then, they’re going to make money off of drug sales.