Making a difference for those in need

This month 4 major pharmaceutical companies, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi-Aventis; all agreed to lower the cost of critical vaccines for developing countries. They have all done this as a part of the international vaccine alliance GAVI. The companies have severely slashed the prices of vaccines for diseases like rotavirus, a disease that isn’t prevalent in developed countries but causes more than half a million deaths per year. The model GAVI uses is one where vaccine costs are drastically lowered in developing countries, and this cost is offset by raised vaccine prices in developed countries.

GlaxoSmithKline has also reported that they are very close to developing an anti-malaria vaccine, which would be the first of its kind. This clearly shows a dissent from common pharmaceutical business practice, since Malaria is virtually wiped out in most developed countries. GSK has no hope of recouping costs for this vaccine by having patients in developed countries pay a premium for vaccination; but this has not deterred their efforts. Rather they have pledged to make on a 5% profit of the sale of the vaccine which will go toward future anti-malaria drug research.

Pharmaceutical companies are often viewed in a negative light for their practice of charging a premium for new drugs. However, the research, development, trials, and further clinical trials required to bring a drug or vaccine to market are all very costly, somewhat justifying a new drug’s high cost. Unfortunately this means there is no market for new drugs to combat diseases in developing countries as they cannot afford to compensate drug companies accordingly for their development costs. This is the key flaw in GAVI’s model, so it is great to see GSK is unhindered by this fact.

Everyday people who work in the biotech field strive to make a difference and help humanity through their research. Through the work of organizations like GAVI this research can ideally be utilized by all, and not just by those who can afford it.

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Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011 Open Forum

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