Pharmaceutical transnationals: recipe for profit

Pharmaceutical transnationals: recipe for profit

Contrary to what one might think, the transnational pharmaceutical industry is not interested in health.

His vocation is to increase his already excessive profits and therefore the ideal consumer of his products is always sick, because if he is cured he stops buying and if he dies too. It is a strictly oligopolistic industry, aggressive to control large percentages of the world market, obtain exclusive patents and high profit percentages, exert pressure to achieve global and national policies in its favor.

Although many other transnational industries work in the same direction, this is about controlling the distribution and access to medicines, which in many cases defines the life or death of the affected people.

It is an industry with high market concentration and that to defend its interests often works asposter. In drug sales, the top 10 multinationals have more than half of the global market. Currently these are Pfizer, Novartis, Roche, Johnson and Johnson, Merck & Co, Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, Abbvie, Gilead Sciences and Teva Pharmaceuticals, followed by Amgen, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Bristol Myers Squibb, Bayer, Novo Nordisk, Allegan, Takeda , Shire and Boheringer Ingelheim. All have a very long history, some more than a century, although due to mergers and purchases, some have changed their names. Several are historically related to those currently dominated by pesticides, seeds and GMOs: Bayer owns Monsanto, Novartis and AstraZeneca joined together to form Syngenta, and so on. The logic of getting sick and selling the cure remains close to them.

According to industry analysts, in 2018 the 10 largest pharmaceutical companies had drug sales of 523 billion dollars, a market that is estimated to reach one trillion dollars in 2020. It is a notable increase in sales and market concentration since 2017, the year in which the top 20 had sales of $ 503 million and the top 100, of $ 747 million (Scrip Pharma, Outlook 2019).

A 2018 report by the US government agency GAO shows that the 25 largest pharmaceutical companies had a profit margin of 15 to 20 percent per year between 2006 and 2015, ranking among the industrial items with the highest return percentages (Government Accountability Office, GAO -18-40). However, almost all of them have reached much higher profit percentages at times, due to the monopoly control of drugs and vaccines in great demand due to epidemics or health crises.

The transnational pharmaceutical industry has also been key to enforcing intellectual property laws and increasingly extending the validity of its patents globally. They are the ones behind its inclusion in the World Trade Organization, NAFTA and other trade agreements. Together with the biotechnology, seeds and computer industry, they fight in all these areas to extend the years of validity of patents and trademarks of their products and prevent them from being accessed without paying them.

They argue that they need to have patents on drugs in order to recoup their spending on innovation and development. On the contrary, several reports of analysis of their innovations show that the vast majority of the new drugs launched on the market by these companies are only copies of those that already existed, with some small modification in the formulation or use, to be able to apply other 20 years of exclusive patent.

Marcia Angell, editor of the scientific journalNew England Journal of Medicine for 17 years, he showed in his bookThe truth about the pharmaceutical industry that 67 percent of the new drugs they launch on the market are not innovations, but copies. The now-defunct US Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) conducted a 1996 report on 348 new products from the 25 largest pharmaceutical companies over seven years and found that 97 percent were copies. Of the remaining 3 percent who were innovative, 70 percent were the product of public research. Although these reports are years old, the reality of the industry remains in the same vein.

There are also several examples of how theposterA multinational pharmaceutical company has boycotted countries that produce generic drugs (that is, where the patent has expired), especially in high demand medicines due to epidemic situations. In 2001, 39 major pharmaceutical companies blocked South Africa from selling all of its drugs, to pressure them not to buy generic AIDS drugs. When they did not succeed, they negotiated as a block a price that, although it was 10 times lower than the initial commercial price of the pharmaceutical companies, was much higher than what could be under their own manufacture.

Now the industry has developed the additional strategy of producing its own generics. Currently, Pfizer and Teva, both among the 10 largest transnationals, are also among the largest global producers of some generics and in some drugs they have managed to become monopolistic in the market, thus achieving the same effect as a patent.

By Silvia Ribeiro

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