After a long dry spell, the pharmaceutical research industry has brought to market a spate of innovative treatments that can extend life and often have fewer side effects than older treatments. But these medicines are not affordable to most of the people who need them. Recent treatments for hepatitis C and cancer – both widespread conditions globally – can cost from $50,000 annually to well over $150,000.
At the other end of the spectrum, the generic pharmaceutical industry is losing interest in manufacturing older, off-patent medicines because the market price has been slashed to a level that it no longer provides an incentive to produce them. The result is either low-quality medicines, or no medicines at all. Two clear examples of this phenomenon are Benzathine penicillin, the antibiotic of choice for certain bacterial infections, and methotrexate, used to treat arthritis, psoriasis, and certain cancers. These products, still needed and often prescribed, are frequently unavailable in health systems.
These recent trends represent a two-fold setback: on the one hand, new medicines are out of reach of even the wealthiest countries, on the other, older medicines are in great shortage.