“The price of the drug is a flammable subject, because at the heart of the economic model of laboratories”

Chronic. The truce was short-lived. After the Covid episode, business resumed its rights. Wednesday, September 15, the House of Representatives of the United States rejected a text of the American government which would have authorized it to negotiate “discounts” on drugs intended for the elderly. The Democrats saw in this rejection the hand of Big Pharma, as the giants of the sector are called. “The pharmaceutical industry has spent $ 4.5 billion [3,8 milliards d’euros] in lobbying for twenty years. This is why we [les Américains] pay the highest prices in the world for our treatments ”, got carried away Senator Bernie Sanders.

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The price of the drug is a flammable subject, because it is at the heart of the economic model of laboratories. But the latter are obviously also very sensitive to the development prospects of their activities. They are therefore constantly looking for areas that combine growth and profitability. This is what drives them today to invest heavily in cancer. The disease, in its innumerable forms, is in constant progression in the population and innovation is continuous in this field thanks to advances in biotechnology. About a third of the drugs on the market are now for the treatment of cancer.

A field that large groups have largely outsourced by letting start-ups develop in the wake of universities and by buying the most promising at a high price. Each month brings its share of transactions, many of which exceed $ 10 billion. The most spectacular was the takeover of Celgene, a specialist in hematological cancers, by Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) for $ 74 billion in 2019, more than ten times its turnover.

Focus on rare forms

This frenzy poses two problems for health authorities. The first is the profound change in the laboratory portfolio. To invest such considerable sums, they abandon specialties that are sometimes very important but have become less lucrative. Late, Sanofi has thus decided to turn away from diabetes, a disease which nevertheless affects nearly 500 million people worldwide, to fully embark on cancer research.

Others had opted out of vaccines or asthma for the same reasons. The other problem is that laboratories sometimes tend to focus on rare forms, without a known effective drug, because they can set very high prices, rather than on the most frequent tumors. In addition, the trend towards personalization of treatments is also pushing up costs and prices. Between the efficiency of an ecosystem of competing private actors and the imperatives of public health and the cost of social protection, the balance is increasingly difficult to find.

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