Myth-Busting Patients for Affordable Drugs

April 29, 2020 2:50 pm

Patients for Affordable Drugs (P4AD) is at it again. In a recent post, the John and Laura Arnold-funded organization attacked companies that are working to develop vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. Many of P4AD’s arguments also found their way into a post on Truthout, a website that one media watchdog said has a “mixed” record for factual reporting.


The P4AD post also was filled with falsehoods, and we tackle three of them here.


Myth #1: “Dug corporations have been uninterested in fighting infectious diseases for decades.”


Truth #1: According to a new report from PhRMA, almost half of the 258 vaccines in development by biopharmaceutical companies—125 to be exact—are vaccines that fight infectious diseases. Biopharmaceutical firms also are working on 108 vaccines for cancer, 14 vaccines for allergies, and at least one therapeutic vaccine to target the amyloid beta protein, which is linked to Alzheimer’s disease. There also are more than 70 vaccines for COVID-19 in the global research pipeline, including six that are currently undergoing human trials.


According to the PhRMA report, if the drug industry had been “uninterested” in vaccines, we would not have:

- The first vaccine to protect against the Ebola virus, which was approved in the United States in 2019;

- The first vaccine to protect against dengue, the most prevalent mosquito-borne viral illness in the world, which also was approved in the United States last year.;

- Two vaccines approved since 2014 to treat meningitis B, which is caused by bacteria in the bloodstream; or

- Seen a 40 percent decline in vaccinated women in cervical cancer caused by certain HPV


Myth #2: The biopharmaceutical industry is only interested in COVID-19 because it is “a business opportunity with minimal risk and tremendous profit potential.”


Truth #2: After Johnson & Johnson Chief Scientific Officer Paul Stoffels estimated a COVID-19 vaccine could cost as little as $10 a dose, Andrew McConaghie from the global research group Informa said Stoffels’ “remarks should put to rest fears from healthcare systems that big pharma companies would seek to profit from COVID-19 vaccines.” There also is this fact: Johnson & Johnson has said it wants to make any vaccine it is able to manufacture available on a “not-for-profit” basis.


This second P4AD claim also ignores that fact that biopharmaceutical companies have a long history of providing free vaccines. As the recent PhRMA report explained, “Most vaccine donations made by the biopharmaceutical industry are in response to emergency situations in developing countries.” Ten years ago, for example, the industry donated 100 million doses of pandemic H1N1 vaccine to the World Health Organization “to help combat a pandemic in developing countries, who otherwise would not have access to the vaccine.”


Myth #3: “American taxpayers are heavily subsidizing drug corporations’ search for a COVID-19 vaccine.”


Truth #3: As we acknowledge in this post, the U.S. government and industry are working closely to develop a COVID-19 vaccine and treatment. Lawmakers have provided billions of taxpayer dollars because there is an enormous public benefit to finding a treatment. In fact, most health experts and business analysts believe it will be impossible to relaunch the economy and get Americans back to work without either a vaccine or a cure.


Experience with past vaccines demonstrates their economic value. According to the PhRMA report, in the United States today, 16 diseases are now preventable as a result of childhood vaccines. Routine immunization of U.S. children born between 1994 and 2018 prevented more than 419 million illnesses and also saved $406 billion in direct medical costs and $1.9 trillion in total societal costs.


In a special report on April 27, Reuters noted, “In the race to develop a vaccine to end the COVID-19 pandemic, governments, charities and Big Pharma firms are sinking billions of dollars into bets with extraordinarily low odds of success.” 


As we have repeatedly said, success never is guaranteed when it comes to drug innovation. But, despite those odds, scientists and researchers—inside the government, but especially outside it—press on.


That work is something to celebrate, not condemn.