The Wall Street Journal asks why the U.S. doesn’t have the drugs it needs:
A shortage of flu shots forces millions to go without them. Hospitals report they’re running out of antibiotics for tough bugs. The U.S. is called vulnerable to avian flu and terrorists spreading anthrax.
How is it that the U.S., known for its prowess in producing lifesaving drugs and boasting an industry with a stock-market value in the hundreds of billions of dollars, doesn’t have the medicine necessary to protect itself from these public-health threats?
The same market forces that reward the production of Lipitor, Viagra and other drugs for chronic conditions have proved a poor way to provide some of the antibiotics and vaccines that the public needs most. By itself, Lipitor, an anticholesterol drug, brings in more revenue — about $12 billion this year — than the entire vaccine market.
Publicly traded drug companies are encouraged by their shareholders to make drugs that either are priced in the thousands of dollars per prescription or can be prescribed for years. What turns off drug companies is a product with low profit margins, infrequent use and a high likelihood of liability lawsuits.