Do we want new and better cystic fibrosis drugs or not?

The is a little campaign - campaignette perhaps - arguing that one of the newer and few that are effective cystic fibrosis drugs should be cheaper for the NHS. That seems fair enough, we’d like to be able to treat disease at least cost. Sadly, this least cost is to be gained by killing the patent on that newish and effective drug. This will kill off, in turn, future drug development to deal with cystic fibrosis.

That’s perhaps not a good deal:

The government could make the drug Orkambi affordable for the NHS. Until then, people will suffer unduly

Certainly the government can. The power exists to simply say that the patent won’t be upheld for terribly important reasons of state and that’s that. Except, of course, that isn’t that.

With our lives being punctuated by such worry, it’s no wonder that news of an effective treatment to cystic fibrosis meant so much. A drug called Orkambi, developed by Vertex Pharmaceuticals, is licensed to treat cystic fibrosis in patients, from two-year-olds to adults, who have a specific genetic mutation causing the disease (called the F508del mutation). Orkambi can slow progression of the disease, improve lung capacity and reduce the frequency and severity of lung infections. For Luis it would be life-changing. Orkambi is the first of a series of drugs that are being developed, with forthcoming ones expected to be even more effective.

But there’s a snag. Though the drug is available and on the market, the NHS can’t afford it. Of course, a health service that’s already under extreme financial strain will always have difficult choices to make – but when the drug company is charging an exorbitant £105,000 per year for a drug taken every day for life, it’s no surprise that the NHS isn’t able to pay. After three years of fruitless negotiations, Orkambi is still not available for cystic fibrosis patients in the UK.

The crucial part of this is “being developed, with forthcoming ones expected to be even more effective”. Those who developed this drug have spent $1 to $2 billion on doing so. Those who are developing the next will spend around the same amount again for each of them. That’s just what it costs to get a new drug through the approval process and into use.

If drug development were only a one time, one iteration, process then we could stiff them. Hey, you’ve developed, at your own cost, this lovely drug. Now we’ll allow anyone to copy it and you’ve just lost your billions.

Har Har you capitalist pigdog.

Except it’s not a one iteration process. Not even just for the one disease. The moment we vitiate patents, thus removing the major support of the financing process, then we’ll find a definite paucity of people willing to invest $1 to $2 billion in developing the next drug for either this disease or any. You know, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, the shame’s on me.

We don’t have drug patents and thus high prices for approved and new drugs because it is just, righteous nor even because capitalists should make a return. We have them to get the next generation of capitalists to risk their money on curing us in the future in the hope that they might make a return. Stealing that from past investments doesn’t create that incentive for the future.