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Lack of appreciation

Posted 01/03/2012 by sevans

The pharmaceutical sector often finds itself the victim of criticism – generally along the lines of ‘why are its products so expensive’ or ‘it makes profits from people’s hardships and illnesses’. The boss of German chemical and life science major Bayer believes that there is a lack of appreciation for what the industry actually does.

Speaking at his company’s annual results announcement, Marijn Dekkers, chairman of the Bayer board, said it boils down to society’s general lack of appreciation for innovations.

‘If a patient has a serious illness, such as cancer, and he is doing better following treatment with a drug product, he will obviously thank his doctor and maybe praise the hospital too,’ said Dekkers. ‘Yet it rarely occurs to anyone to thank the inventor and the manufacturer of the medicine. In fact, many patients are often unaware of which company developed and manufactured the medicine, although it was that company that took the considerable financial risk and invested the substantial amount of time and resources necessary to enable the doctor and the hospital to help the patient at all.

‘These are things that need to be explained more often and more clearly so that society accepts innovations and acknowledges their value. I believe it’s time for our company and our industry to become more involved in the current debate,’ he added.

Unfortunately, when questioned about what his company might do in this respect, Dekkers was somewhat reticent. He was, however, more forthcoming about what the future holds for pharmaceuticals. Despite what many observers have been saying about the lack of new drugs coming through company pipelines, he is optimistic.

‘We need innovative pharmaceuticals more than ever, because so many known diseases still cannot be treated adequately, or at all, with medicines,’ he said. ‘And I firmly believe that there is still much to be achieved in this area. Scientific advances over the last 15 years or so – in cell biology, for example – provide a very good starting point for developing new drugs to treat a variety of diseases.’

But he did have a warning regarding the downwards pressure on pharmaceutical pricing that is a feature of governments around the world as they try to reduce their spending. ‘If, in this situation, the revenues from current products are too sharply reduced, the medium-term effect may be that research-based pharmaceutical companies will lack the resources they need to develop medicines in the future.’

So a not unexpected shot across the bows, particularly of governments in the developed world, from a company that enjoyed record sales again in 2011. It looks like an up-hill struggle if the appreciation that Dekkers calls for is to become a reality.

Neil Eisberg - Editor

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