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An Uncomfortable Truth: No $ In Cures

In a development more shocking than the capture of a live Bigfoot, a recent Goldman Sachs research report (click here and here) states in black-and-white what many have long suspected: curing diseases is not a viable business model for the companies that develop and manufacture drugs. Instead, drugs that turn terrible diseases into treatable illnesses, kept under control by the perpetual use of medicines that sustain patients but don’t cure them, are marvels of modern capitalism.

Perhaps unwittingly, the Goldman Sachs report confirms that our current medical research model is more crippled than I am. Over the past three or four decades, following the interlocking mantras of “all government is bad government” and “private enterprise is the solution for everything,” our society has handed the reins of medical research over to for-profit pharmaceutical, medical device, and biotech companies. Most of these companies are publicly traded, meaning their stock is available for trade on the world’s stock markets.

The problem with this formula is that publicly traded companies are mandated by law to be beholden to their stockholders, not the end users of their products. In the case of pharmaceutical and medical device companies, these end-users are sick people, many suffering from hideous diseases like multiple sclerosis. In the cold calculus of the free-market, the job of drug company executives is NOT to produce drugs that offer the best result for the patients who take them (like, say, cures). Instead, providing the best outcome for the companies’ stockholders – in the form of ever-increasing profits and ever appreciating stock prices – is the mandated responsibility of these executives.

In fact, the CEO of a drug company with an established and successful franchise of MS treatments could very well be engaged in illegal practices if they endorsed their company marketing a cure for the disease, which would destroy their already profitable business model. In the parlance of the financial world, that executive would be in breach of his or her fiduciary responsibilities. In the parlance of the rest of the world, that executive would likely be given the heave-ho and could spend a good chunk of time in a Club Fed.

Since finding cures for diseases like MS and cancer have eluded researchers for decades, if not centuries, the recent advent of medicines that treat but don’t cure have been heralded as modern miracles. The lack of cures has become the accepted status quo, despite the fact that in the days before medical research was dominated by for-profit concerns, dread diseases like polio, smallpox, and tuberculosis were wiped out by government and academic researchers. Now, though, with the science of genetic therapies rapidly advancing, the prospect – or, in the eyes of Goldman Sachs, the problem – of curing diseases is growing tremendously, threatening to upend a business model that has become incredibly profitable. To take just one example, medicines that treat but don’t cure multiple sclerosis generated over $25 billion in revenues during the last year alone.

As more and more disease-related genes are mapped and identified, the universe of illnesses that might benefit from gene therapy is expanding exponentially. Multiple sclerosis is one of those diseases, as it seems every few weeks a new set of genes are discovered that play a role in the MS disease process. The ultimate cure for MS may one day lie in altering the genes that initiate the cascade of failures that leads the body to destroy its own tissues. Ultimately, the genetic profile of individual patients may be used to tailor cures unique to their genetic makeup.

In their research report released last week, Goldman Sachs – a company that is a central pillar of our financial system with a reach far beyond Wall Street – concludes that such genetic therapies represent a vital threat to those invested in companies involved in drug and medical device development and manufacturing. In a report entitled “The Genome Revolution”, Goldman Sachs analysts ask, “is curing patients a sustainable business model?” While acknowledging the vast potential of genetic treatments, the report states “Such treatments offer a very different outlook with regard to recurring revenue versus chronic therapies. While this proposition carries tremendous value for patients and society, it could represent a challenge for genome medicine developers looking for sustained cash flow.” Heaven forbid! The almighty dollar must rule all, patient and societal well-being be damned.

The report goes on to make several recommendations for addressing the looming financial threat of curing rather than treating diseases, including that companies ignore rare diseases whose small patient pools would make any cures prohibitively expensive, and also that they avoid curing infectious diseases because “… curing patients also decreases the number of carriers able to transmit the virus to new patients”, which would, of course, be terrible for business. The report cites the example of Gilead Sciences, which developed a cure for hepatitis C several years ago (click here), but has seen its profits plummet as the population of hepatitis C patients shrinks thanks to the success of Gilead’s medication. As a result, the company’s stock value has suffered. More proof that no good deed goes unpunished.

Folks, this Goldman Sachs research paper states in black-and-white what to many has been long apparent but difficult to fathom: there is very little incentive for pharmaceutical companies to research and develop cures for diseases when marketing treatments that transform patients into customers for life is an immensely profitable business model. Those of us suffering from terrible conditions like multiple sclerosis must recognize that hoping for a cure from such entities is akin to hoping that the Easter Bunny hops into your local MS clinic and drops off a cure delicately encased in a colorfully decorated egg.

What is the solution to this situation? Well, how about putting a small tax on pharmaceutical company profits, the proceeds of which could be funneled exclusively into publicly funded medical research explicitly targeted at finding the cause and cure of currently intractable diseases. If a tax of 4% were placed on MS medications, which, as stated previously, generated $25 billion in revenues last year, a nifty $1 billion could have gone to fund independent researchers in the search for a cure for the disease. Would it place an undue hardship on MS drug manufacturers if last year’s revenues totaled $24 billion rather than $25 billion? Let’s not forget, pharmaceutical companies are granted extremely long patents on their products and don’t face much in the way of free-market competition. It’s no accident that every MS medication is priced between $60,000-$85,000, despite the fact that some of them have been on the market for more than 20 years.

Yes, I am aware that any talk of increased taxes is anathema to ideologically driven politicians and those who vote for them, but if we are to find our way out of a status quo that sees treating but not curing as perfectly acceptable, some radical changes need to be made. The current state of our medical research model has been corrupted by the siren song of blockbuster drugs, the profits from which are astronomical. As a society, we must reckon with the following question: Are profits more important than patients? Seems to me that in a country where “Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness” are held as sacred, the answer should be self-evident. It’s tough to enjoy our inalienable rights while plagued with horrible illness. Will the incessant drive for ever-increasing economic gain dictate the future of medicine, or will we as a society finally stand up and say, “Enough!”

This article was originally published on Marc’s website on 04/16/18 and is being featured on MultipleSclerosis.net with his permission.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • faithkathy
    8 months ago

    I went to the hospital to do TEST and to my greatest surprise, I tested negative to Hepatitis B Virus just as he said it will be within 2 weeks of usage. Do not loose hope too soon. Contact him if you need his help and you can Email him on his email addresses:(voodoospell10@gmail.com) For easy and fast communication you can also call or add him up on whats-app…(+2348135790702)

  • kayellbur
    1 year ago

    Absolutely brilliant article Marc, thank you. I could not agree more with your words and plan to share this with my family as more reassurance as to why I do not take any of these ‘modifying’ drugs.

  • messeeone
    1 year ago

    Yep, that little nagging thought stuck in some part of my plaque-riddled brain has quietly wondered about this. After 24 years living with this disease, every year when I ask for donations for the MS Walk, I wonder why we’ve developed such great meds to sustain our disease, but no real cure. I know smart, well-meaning researchers are working in labs everyday, but are good intentions any match for big manufacturing companies? Thanks for bringing this to our attention in “black and white.”

  • Marc Stecker-Wheelchair Kamikaze author
    1 year ago

    Hi, thanks for commenting. Yes, there are some researchers diligently trying to find a cure for MS, but unfortunately most of their research isn’t picked up by big pharmaceutical companies, who are the only entities around that have the money to stage late stage medical trials. Therefore, a lot of promising research is left to die on the vine.

    I appreciate your efforts organizing MS walks, etc. I would like to point out, though, that the MS society is very much a part of the status quo, and in some ways is more a problem than a solution. They are heavily in bed with big Pharma, and unfortunately don’t devote nearly enough money towards finding the cause and cure of the disease. I would politely suggest you urge your friends and family to donate instead to some of the smaller MS nonprofits, such as the Accelerated Cure Project, which are actively working towards a cure.

  • Meagan Heidelberg moderator
    1 year ago

    @bandmom
    Thank you for reading as well as taking the time to comment! We appreciate your input.
    Best – Meagan, MultipleSclerosis.net Team Member

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