Jan 24, 2020

Big Pharma's bottom line is leaving the world vulnerable to pandemics

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Drug companies don't have much financial incentive to invest research and development dollars into new vaccines and antibiotics, leaving the world vulnerable to future pandemics.

Between the lines: The best-case scenario for these kinds of drugs is that they're lightly or never used. That doesn't sound very good to companies when their R&D dollars could alternatively go to diseases like cancer, which are much more likely to turn a sizable profit.

  • "The possibility for blockbuster sales motivates large drugmakers; little else moves the needle. The revenue potential for many infectious disease drugs is likely to remain limited, so other serious incentives are required," Bloomberg Opinion's Max Nisen writes.

Driving the news: The coronavirus, obviously, and the fact that it's revealed once again how unprepared the world is for a global pandemic.

By the numbers: 20 drug companies spent more than $2 billion on R&D over the last year, but only four of them have major vaccine units, per Bloomberg Opinion. Some drug companies have also stepped away from antibiotic development.

Yes, but: Some drug companies are rushing to develop vaccines to protect against the new virus, WSJ reports.

  • They include Moderna, Inovio Pharmaceuticals and Novavax Inc., as well as researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia.
  • The vaccines could be ready for human testing in a few months, but approval would take longer.

Go deeper: Dwindling antibiotics undermine fight against drug-resistant infections, WHO warns

Go deeper

NIH has no big drug manufacturer on board to make its coronavirus vaccine

Anthony Fauci speaks at a Feb. 7 press conference on coronavirus developments. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

A leading U.S. health official said Tuesday it's "very frustrating" that no major drug firm has yet offered to make a vaccine against the novel coronavirus that the National Institutes of Health is helping develop, STAT News reports.

Why it matters: When outbreaks of new worrisome pathogens start, governments may immediately start working on diagnostics, vaccines and treatments, but they also need a buy-in from drug companies that sometimes get burned if the outbreak suddenly peters out or the drug isn't successful.

Go deeperArrowFeb 12, 2020 - Health

Coronavirus researchers to meet in Geneva to address outbreak

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The World Health Organization says it will host a “major meeting” with researchers and health agencies from around the world on Tuesday to address the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The goal: To set priorities and fast-track the development and evaluation of diagnostics, vaccines and treatments, plus ensure accessibility for vulnerable populations, the WHO said.

Go deeperArrowFeb 6, 2020 - World

FDA defends its drug approval process after controversial reviews

FDA headquarters. Photo: Al Drago/CQ Roll Call

Many experts have questioned the FDA's drug approval standards over the past few years, as several controversial drugs have gotten the green light despite less rigorous testing.

What they're saying: Peter Stein, the head of the FDA's office that analyzes new drugs, sat down with Zachary Brennan of Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society and said the only thing that's changed with the FDA's approval process is a shift in the types of drugs the agency is reviewing.

Go deeperArrowFeb 11, 2020 - Health