A Pill for Every Ill pt. 2: Making a Killing

April 6th, 2016






”I’ve seen so many patients, particularly elderly patients, over the years who become debilitated and changed by the process by which I cure them or another doctor cures them. And has it really been worth it?”


Sherwin B. Nuland



Medicine’s unique selling point


snakeoil salesman



Last week, (click here if you missed it) we looked at the rise of Western medicine from humble origins into a global corporate culture whose turnovers are bigger than the GDP of many of the countries they service with their products. We outlined the struggle medicine faced to differentiate itself among a plethora of serious and less serious therapeutic models of the nineteenth century till the breakthrough of antibiotics in the 1930’s.


Medicine finally had its unique selling point: It was no longer chained to its old model of individual, one-to-one consultations. It could now define and treat many diseases collectively.


The ability to synthesise what it considered the key or active ingredients of medical formulas also meant it was no longer dependent upon the availability and purity of natural extracts and could mass produce and distribute medicines quickly and, in theory, more cheaply.


From an economic perspective, while these developments instantly gave medicine a radically expanded market share and influence, it was another factor that made it the corporate behemoth we know today.



Patent medicine


As revolutionary as the above developments were, by far the single biggest sea-change in the rise of corporate medicine was the patenting of synthetic medicines. Patenting a product bestowed legal ownership by the company successfully filing the patent. This either meant an exclusive market or lucrative fees from other companies wishing to use a big selling product.


harris patent


Patents mean that, for a time at least, the competition could be eliminated or controlled. At a business level this made sense of course as its primary aim is to maximise profit and reduce risks and threats to that end.


When that product is a medicine that could help or harm huge numbers of people around the planet however, it can no longer fairly be looked at in only cold, economic terms.



What are medical patents, really?


Perhaps the most telling, philosophical definition of a patent is by Bruce Lehman, president of the International Intellectual Property Institute:


“Patents are exclusive property rights in intangible creations of the human mind.”




Such a statement already sets us upon fairly shaky ground as to what we really have rights to and, by implication, what others do not. Chemical corporations like Monsanto, for example, having been testing and stretching the limits of what this means in practical, economic terms. The problem of course is that it doesn’t end at only economic consequences.


A so-called ‘orphan’ medical patent (that is, one that is not based on a previously patented medicine but is a completely new product) has an expiration date twenty years after the date of filing. Even one that has been bought out by by a purchasing company retains whatever life is left in that patent.


Originally this was to protect the hard work or economic investment of the patent holder from other companies profiting freely from their efforts. The trouble with such exclusivity in a medical patent is that it can mean very expensive medicines due to a lack of economic competition.



Why corporate capitalism and medical care do not mix


Here are some examples of just the kind of knotty, ethical and moral dilemmas standard corporate practices like patenting or exclusivity of medicines can produce.


Case 1: The greedy investor


Former hedge fund manager Martin Shkreli bought up a sixty two year old medicine called Daraprim. Daraprim is used in cases of toxoplasmosis – a parasitic, food-borne illness that can severely affect those with already compromised immune systems, like HIV sufferers.


Upon purchasing the medicine, Skreli’s company, Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price from $13.50 per pill to $750 overnight (click the article with video link here).


In the video below Mr. Skreli justifies his actions from the perspective of sound corporate practice. This has understandably drawn ridicule from the public and media alike. However, when asked if he could do anything different his reply was that he would have raised the price even higher. He justified this with classic, corporate logic: “My investors expect me to maximise profits.”




And that is why the corporatisation of medicine is inherently flawed. It’s stated aim is profits for its shareholders, not the care and well-being of the sick and vulnerable. When both these aims can be satisfied – when profits fund a new medicine that help many people and therefore create more profit  – then there is no outcry. 1. The inherently psychopathic nature of the corporate structure itself however ensures that when there is a conflict of interest patient concerns are secondary. 2


Case 2: Drugs are becoming too expensive even for governments


The following article from the Guardian newspaper outlines how the National Health Service (NHS) in England is refusing to pay the fantasy figures corporate medicine is demanding for medicines – in this case, some cancer medicines the link is here.


“The drugs are cheap to make, and are available to patients in some other countries at much lower prices…”


And here is a key point. When there is a mystery value on something as emotionally charged as a ‘life saving’ drug the temptation to raise the price to highest bidder (in the richest countries at least) causes this arbitrary and cynical pricing.



View from the (toxic) trenches


Toxic medical drug allergies

Toxic medical drug allergies


So much for the corporate perspective. What does this mean for all the dedicated doctors, nurses, hospital and medical centre staff working for their patient’s best interests?


Even with regulatory approval, the elephant in the room that is the ‘Pill for every ill’ approach cannot avoid the fact that the medicines themselves are toxic. While this may present an acceptable risk in short term use for acute conditions, the balance tips when multiple medicines are prescribed for chronic diseases, requiring them to be taken over long periods of time.


In the video below, Danish doctor Peter Gøtzsche discusses some of the inevitable outcomes from just these kinds of practices.




Not only don’t the drugs work, they can kill you


The third biggest killer, after heart disease and cancer, is medicine. Reflect on that for a second or two. That is, either due to the toxic effects of medicines (often the cocktail of multiple prescription medicines) or medical mistakes and malpractice, medicine can – and regularly does – kill us.


While that may be a disturbing thought to end part two of this short blog series on the corporatisation of medicine, do not fear. This is because, by a completely coincidental stroke of luck, there just happens to be a third and final part coming your way next week.


We will be looking at the claims and counter-claims about how the corporate sector of medicine may or may not even be concerned with curing anything – so long as it can keeping making money on the search.


More importantly perhaps, we will look at some of the ways we can reclaim power over our own health – whether we choose to make medicine part of that or not.




Till another Monday proclaims: “Wake up! (It’s time for your sleeping pill…)”



Though, to be honest how many ‘breakthrough’ medicines have stood the test of time or not created at least as many problems as they have ‘solved’?



Those shocked at this last statement about psychopathic corporate behaviour are cordially invited to check out another blog series on this very subject here 



© Jeremy Halpin all rights reserved. All images are the author’s own unless otherwise indicated or if the original source is unknown at the time of writing. You can subscribe to this blog by clicking the button in the bottom right hand corner of the page – or share it on the social media of your choice. If you have any wishes or questions regarding subjects to be discussed on this blog use the contact information below. Jeremy is also available for seminars, lectures and personal consultation: info@jeremyhalpin.com


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