Despite the industry’s support for Democratic health care efforts, reached last spring in exchange for certain protections, Obama continues to demonize the industry. Obama’s new plan, rolled out yesterday, increased taxes on the pharmaceutical industry by $10 billion to pay for expanded insurance coverage.
Which brings me to the article featured on the home page of the NY Times today about a breakthrough drug, PLX4032, which is showing very promising signs as a cure for melanoma:
For the melanoma patients who signed on to try a drug known as PLX4032, the clinical trial was a last resort. Their bodies were riddled with tumors, leaving them almost certainly just months to live.
But a few weeks after taking their first dose, nearly all of them began to recover.
The article is the second in a three part series. The first part ran Sunday.
The series documents the heartwarming stories of lives saved, and the doctors involved in the clinical trials.
But there is only passing reference in the series to the history of the PLX4032, and the role played by pharmaceutical companies (emphasis mine):
The drug Plexxikon called PLX4032 was different, designed to bind to the B-RAF protein only in cancer cells. Human tumors with the mutation, grafted into mice, Plexxikon’s chief scientist told Dr. Flaherty, had stopped growing when exposed to the drug. And no amount seemed to induce side effects in dogs or monkeys. An investment in the drug by Roche, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant, shortly after Dr. Flaherty signed on to lead its first human trial alleviated his concern that Plexxikon might not have the wherewithal to pull it off.
The company behind PLX4032 is Plexxikon, founded by two academic researchers in 2001. PLX4032 has been under development since that time, but would not have become a viable drug without significant investment by the Roche, one of the largest drug companies, which agreed in 2006 to invest up to $700 million, depending upon whether the drug hit certain development benchmarks.
If PLX4032 is successful, and survives the FDA approval process, Roche stands to make billions; and thousands if not millions of lives will be saved. It the drug turns out not to be commercially viable, Roche loses its investment.
What is missing from this picture is government. PLX4032 was not developed by a bureaucrat, but by entrepreneurs with the help of private equity investments. While government surely plays a role in basic research funding, and supervision of clinical trials, without the entrepreneurial spirit and the funding of a large drug company, PLX4032 would be just another good idea sitting on a scientist’s shelf.
And that is the point of this story. While it is easy to demonize the profits of the pharmaceutical industry, the reality is that lives depend upon the ability of the industry to fund research and development of new cures at risk of losing that investment. While these cures are expensive, the surgeries and other medical care avoided often are just as expensive, not to mention the human suffering avoided.
I hope that PLX4032 turns out to be all that the NY Times article seems to indicate. And that the people who invested their lives and money in bringing it to market make a fortune.
Not because I want others to be rich, but because I want the Plexxikons and Roches of the world to keep on trying to develop cures even if it means they lose out on most of the drugs they develop.
If Obamacare passes, there will be higher taxes on drug companies; and if Democrats in Congress get their way, we also will be demanding quicker generic equivalents and drug re-importation, which makes the economics of drug development less viable.
We’ll never know which miracle cures never came to market because of the Democratic demonization of the pharmaceutical industry. And what we don’t know, may kill us.