Just look at the parade of Trump’s cabinet nominees that have been marching in front of Senate committees this week as they undergo the confirmation ritual. They have been correctly characterized as a gallery of millionaires and billionaires. That was to be expected because Trump said he wants “people who have made a fortune” to serve in his cabinet. No one can say that the new president disparages people of wealth or the business endeavors that enriched them.
But at his Jan. 11 press conference, Trump made this statement about the drug industry.
“We have to get our drug industry coming back. Our drug industry has been disastrous. They're leaving left and right. They supply our drugs but they don't make them here, to a large extent. And the other thing we have to do is create new bidding procedures for the drug industry, because they're getting away with murder. Pharma has a lot of lobbies, a lot of lobbyists, a lot of power. And there's very little bidding on drugs. We're the largest buyer of drugs in the world, and yet we don't bid properly. We're going to start bidding. We're going to save billions of dollars over a period of time.”
In one concise statement, he blasted inversion mergers that enable pharma companies to dodge taxes and derided both the industry’s penchant for using overseas manufacturing plants and its unconscionably high drug prices. And this from a man whom many accuse of dividing the world between billionaires and losers.
The new president is apparently a voracious reader of the news because he is quite specific in the aspersions he casts at the news media. If that’s so, he’s likely seen the following news stories during the past several days which present even slimier details about pharma’s usual pattern of conducting business.
A study published by medical researchers in BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) found that approximately 60 percent of principal investigators on published U.S. drug trials had financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry and their studies were far more likely than those of researchers without such connections to produce favorable results for the test drugs.
The authors noted that this tendency probably didn’t result from investigators falsifying or distorting their results. Rather, the pharma sponsors only permit the publication of results that are favorable to their brands, so studies showing that a sponsor’s drug is ineffective and/or harmful never see the light of day.
This means that publication in peer reviewed journals, the forum for scientific dialogue and progress, is subverted by the pharmaceutical industry.
Then this week, JAMA Internal Medicine published a series of papers on money and influence in health care. According to the NPR/ProPublica summary, the papers found “The long arm of the pharmaceutical industry” influences “practically every area of medicine.” This undue influence affects thought-leading specialists who write the guidelines that shape treatment patterns. Also, most so-called patient advocacy organizations, that ostensibly campaign on behalf of patients, receive substantial funding from pharma companies. Even a large proportion of physicians who write letters to the Centers for Disease Control or post Tweets on Twitter have ties to pharma.
In this same week, Kaiser Health News showed how pharmaceutical companies manipulate the U.S.’s Orphan Drug legislation to win tax breaks and extended patent protection for brands that actually treat large populations.
Orphan drugs are accorded favored status by the U.S. government, in order to encourage companies to develop drugs for diseases that afflict small populations. But contrary to the law’s intent, drug companies game the system to secure breaks for their brands that treat many millions of people.
Is it any wonder that in a Harris poll published this week, 91 percent of Americans said that the pharmaceutical industry puts profits before patients?
What is to be done with an industry that is condemned by so many Americans and by a president who venerates wealth?
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