Five Underappreciated Contributions from Pharma

In my previous post I pointed out the Five Irreparable Mistakes made by Pharma.  At the same time, many patients owe their health, if not their lives, to advances in drug therapy.  The good is often overshadowed by the unethical and greedy, if not illegal activities and behaviors that make the headlines.  Here are some of the “good” that have been mitigated by the bad:

  1. Treatments for most common diseases

Decades of drug discovery and development have filled pharmacies and our medicine cabinets with a broad range of treatments for many of the common diseases that can compromise our health today.  Most of these are now available as low cost generic drugs.  Sure there are diseases yet to be conquered and recent R & D productivity has been disappointing but we still have to appreciate the numbers of affordable drug treatments we have available to day.

  1. Technology acquisition and development

There is no doubt that without pharmaceutical industry funding and development expertise, we would not have seen the benefits from technologies that would have otherwise remained hostage to under-funding in university laboratories or small biotech companies.   Depleted pipelines in the past decade forced Big Pharma to abandon the NIH (not invented here) research mentality and aggressively pursue acquisition strategies.  To the benefit of patients around the world, Pharma pulled out their checkbooks, took the financial risks, and in many cases, over paid for promising but unproven technologies.

  1. Medicine for the poor

It is easy to criticize the pharmaceutical industry for their seemingly greedy pricing policies and taking advantage of their monopolistic hold on drug treatments.  It is also important, however, to recognize that the industry has done a lot to offset costs for the poor and elderly but even more importantly, making sure that the poor in developing countries have access to drugs they need.  OK, they could have done more and could do more but you can not ignore the free medicines, discounted treatments, and global in-kind disaster support.  And let’s not forget the often criticized sampling programs that often meant the difference between a patient taking medicine that they could not afford or going without treatment.

  1. Continuing Medical Education

Despite the concerns and criticism about whether or not pharmaceutical industry CME is or was promotional and biased, the contribution the industry has made to educating healthcare providers is undeniable. The pharmaceutical industry helped educate millions of healthcare providers not only about drug therapy but about the associated diseases.  While you might debate the quality of the programs, it is clear that academia and the medical profession will have a hard time replacing the numbers of programs and frequency of reaching the numbers of physicians exposed to educational programs by the pharmaceutical industry.  Even if you discount industry sponsored programs for their promotional, biased approach, at the very least, these programs encouraged and provided regular opportunities for healthcare providers to reflect on and do their own research about a broad range of drug therapies and diseases.

  1. Providing a venue for Scientific Excellence

The pharmaceutical industry has provided a fantastic place to train, develop, and apply scientific and technical expertise.  From research and development to manufacturing, science is at the foundation of operational performance excellence.   In the end, pharmaceutical industry training and application of science leads to products and programs that positively benefit mankind in ways that are unmatched by other industries, except perhaps, by healthcare itself.

So for all the notable greed-driven bad behaviors and mistakes that characterize the pharmaceutical industry today, we should not forget the good that has been done.  Unfortunately, the pharmaceutical industry had the chance to be the most respected and valued industry in the world while being embraced, not begrudged, as the most profitable.  Still a laudable goal but one that will take decades to recover from past indiscretions and to demonstrate consistency of good behaviors over time while delivering clinically meaningful breakthrough drugs that can satisfy the remaining unmet medical needs.