The coronavirus outbreak may finally help expose the fallacy of the notion that the private marketplace is innately superior.
Canada once had a publicly owned pharmaceutical company that could have made a difference in the current coronavirus crisis — except that we sold it.
Connaught Labs was a superstar in global medicine. For seven decades, this publicly owned Canadian company performed brilliantly on the national and international stage, contributing to medical breakthroughs and developing affordable treatments and vaccines for deadly diseases.
Hated by its corporate competitors, Connaught was unique among pharmaceutical companies in that its focus was on human need, not profit.
It would have come in handy today.
In fact, Connaught got its start amid a diphtheria outbreak in 1913. Toronto doctor John Gerald FitzGerald was outraged that children were dying in large numbers even though there was a diphtheria treatment available from a U.S. manufacturer. But, at $25 a dose, it was unaffordable to all but the rich. FitzGerald set out to change that — and did.
After experimenting on a horse in a downtown Toronto stable, FitzGerald developed an antitoxin that proved effective in treating diphtheria, and made it available to public health outlets across the country. Then, with lab space provided by the University of Toronto, he and his team went on to produce low-cost treatments and vaccines for other common killers, including tetanus, typhoid and meningitis.
Connaught developed an impressive research capacity, with its scientists contributing to some of the biggest medical breakthroughs of the 20th century…
American Big Pharma Prepares To Cash In Big On The Coronavirus Pandemic
By Sharon Lerner
The Intercept (3/15/20)
As the new coronavirus spreads illness, death, and catastrophe around the world, virtually no economic sector has been spared from harm. Yet amid the mayhem from the global pandemic, one industry is not only surviving, it is profiting handsomely.
“Pharmaceutical companies view Covid-19 as a once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity,” said Gerald Posner, author of “Pharma: Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America.” The world needs pharmaceutical products, of course. For the new coronavirus outbreak, in particular, we need treatments and vaccines and, in the U.S., tests. Dozens of companies are now vying to make them.
“They’re all in that race,” said Posner, who described the potential payoffs for winning the race as huge. The global crisis “will potentially be a blockbuster for the industry in terms of sales and profits,” he said, adding that “the worse the pandemic gets, the higher their eventual profit.”
The final aid package not only omitted language that would have limited drug makers’ intellectual property rights, it specifically prohibited the federal government from taking any action if it has concerns that the treatments or vaccines developed with public funds are priced too high.
The ability to make money off of pharmaceuticals is already uniquely large in the U.S., which lacks the basic price controls other countries have, giving drug companies more freedom over setting prices for their products than anywhere else in the world. During the current crisis, pharmaceutical makers may have even more leeway than usual because of language industry lobbyists inserted into an $8.3 billion coronavirus spending package, passed last week, to maximize their profits from the pandemic.
Initially, some lawmakers had tried to ensure that the federal government would limit how much pharmaceutical companies could reap from vaccines and treatments for the new coronavirus that they developed with the use of public funding. In February, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and other House members wrote to Trump pleading that he “ensure that any vaccine or treatment developed with U.S. taxpayer dollars be accessible, available and affordable,” a goal they said couldn’t be met “if pharmaceutical corporations are given authority to set prices and determine distribution, putting profit-making interests ahead of health priorities.”
When the coronavirus funding was being negotiated, Schakowsky tried again, writing to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on March 2 that it would be “unacceptable if the rights to produce and market that vaccine were subsequently handed over to a pharmaceutical manufacturer through an exclusive license with no conditions on pricing or access, allowing the company to charge whatever it would like and essentially selling the vaccine back to the public who paid for its development.”
But many Republicans opposed adding language to the bill that would restrict the industry’s ability to profit, arguing that it would stifle research and innovation…