Instead of prioritizing to develop safe drugs to combat third-world diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, and diarrhea, pharmaceutical companies are pouring their resources and money into developing what we call “lifestyle” drugs, drugs that target first-world problems. As the aging population of America grows, more drugs are being developed to make us look younger and feel younger. Drugs are being developed to combat impotence, baldness, wrinkles, acne, and even more ridiculous, hangovers. These pharmaceutical companies constantly find niches in the market to develop drugs that target our society, instead of spending money in development of drugs which can save many lives in other countries. Only people living in poverty are afflicted with diseases, which are virtually eliminated in the United States. Although these diseases are not prevalent in the developed countries, an outbreak of these diseases will cost many lives because there are no new cures being developed.
There are many reasons to explain why not as many drugs are being developed for diseases prevalent in third-world countries. A problem is that most pharmaceutical companies are for-profit. From a business perspective, these companies are marketing and developing drugs for the people who can afford to pay for them. “Lifestyle drugs” will always have consumers. These types of drugs will always be taken, and possibly for an individual’s entire lifetime. Even as consumers and government regulators become more alarmed over drug safety, pharmaceutical companies continuously produce drugs for weight loss, hair loss, sleep and sexual dysfunction. Why should pharmaceutical companies focus on creating drugs for people in third world countries who cannot afford the treatments? Without incoming profits, pharmaceutical companies would be out of business if they concentrated on finding cures for diseases which afflict the poor. However, pharmaceutical companies make a surplus of profits off lifestyle drugs which can be used in research and development, but most of that money is used to pay shareholders of their instead.
In 2006 British Medical Journal, Joseph Stiglitz said, “The establishment of the World Trade Organization … imposed US style intellectual property rights around the world. These rights were intended to reduce access to generic medicines and they succeeded.
Developing countries paid a high price for this agreement. But what have they received in return? Drug companies spend more on advertising and marketing than on research, more on research on lifestyle drugs than on life saving drugs, and almost nothing on diseases that affect developing countries only. This is not surprising. Poor people cannot afford drugs, and drug companies make investments that yield the highest returns. The chief executive of Novartis, a drug company with a history of social responsibility, said “We have no model which would [meet] the need for new drugs in a sustainable way … You can’t expect for-profit organizations to do this on a large scale”. Generic drugs, which are more affordable for the poor are hard to patent because “pharmaceutical companies often claim intellectual property enforcement to help recoup their investment in drugs.” These pharmaceutical companies have the patent on their drug for several years before generic forms of the drug can be developed. But in that span of time, the disease that the drug targets may have become more resistant. The drug that was developed several years back will render useless. These patents and high prices of drugs prevent the poor and third world countries from receiving potential cures when it is developed. Should pharmaceutical companies be able to decide who can have access to these lifesaving drugs that they developed?
However, there seems to be some hope for these Third World countries. Recently in January 2012, Bill Gates created a collaboration of global health organizations, major pharmaceutical industries, governmental organizations and governments to fight tropical diseases for the 1.4 billion people affected by these diseases. In addition, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is donating $363 million in funding to fill gaps in research and drug distribution programs to try to eliminate ten of these tropical diseases in these endemic countries and fulfill the 2020 goals set by the World Health Organization.
With this program in place, hopefully over the next decade, more life-saving drugs will be developed instead of lifestyle drugs. We cannot rely solely on pharmaceutical companies to produce these lifesaving drugs. Because producing lifesaving drugs are costly and timely, the government can provide more incentives for these companies and allow breakthrough drugs to be approved faster. There needs to be more collaboration between the government and drug companies to speed up the process of drug development for these Third-World Diseases.