Friday, December 22, 2006
Op-ed in the L.A. Times -- The myth of the big bad drug companies, by Professor Richard Epstein of University of Chicago Law School:
THE PHARMACEUTICAL industry is getting bad press. Recent books by Marcia Angell, the former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Jerome Kassirer, another former editor of the journal, have harshly condemned the industry for recklessness, insensitivity and all-consuming greed. They gain sales by spicing up their titles with inflammatory phrases about "deception," "complicity" and how drug companies "endanger your health."
I take a different approach. I don't defend every business decision made by the great pharmaceutical research houses. To the contrary, much recent commentary suggests that many such companies have committed themselves to a blockbuster-drug model — in which a company's success or failure depends on a few vital, high-selling drugs — that may prove unsustainable over the long haul. If so, I believe that those firms should suffer the financial consequences of their mistaken business choices. Government bailouts are no more appropriate for Merck and Pfizer than they are for Chrysler or Ford.
Nonetheless, critics like Angell and Kassirer are absolutely wrong to portray the nation's big drug companies as heartless, avaricious behemoths that act in whatever manner they choose and always get their way. The truth is, the pharmaceutical industry is too heavily regulated. Its big problem today is not that it's free to run roughshod over the needs of consumers, but that it operates in a hostile and excessive regulatory environment that frustrates sound business decision-making and keeps down pharmaceutical company share prices in the stock market.
Professor Epstein has also recently written a book on the same topic -- Overdose: How Excessive Government Regulation Stifles Pharmaceutical Innovation (Yale Univ. Press 2006). Here's the book description from the publisher:
This book is the first to offer a comprehensive examination of the pharmaceutical industry by following the tortuous course of a new drug as it progresses from early development to final delivery. Richard A. Epstein looks closely at the regulatory framework that surrounds all aspects of making pharmaceutical products today, and he assesses which current legal and regulatory practices make sense and which have gone awry.
While critics of pharmaceutical companies call for ever more stringent controls on virtually every aspect of drug development and approval, Epstein cautions that the effect of such an approach will be to stifle pharmaceutical innovation and slow the delivery of beneficial treatments to the patients who need them. The author considers an array of challenges that confront the industry--conflicts of interest among government, academe, and the drug companies; intellectual property rights that govern patents; FDA regulation; pricing disputes; marketing practices; and liability issues, including those brought to light in the recent VIOXX case. Epstein argues that to ensure the continuing creativity, efficiency, and success of the pharmaceutical industry, the best system will feature strong property rights and clearly enforceable contracts, with minimal regulatory and judicial interference.