Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez blows the lid on big pharma’s public subsidy scam – and it’s the same in the UK too 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pictured next to some pharmaceuticals and cash
Joshua Funnell

One of America’s most radical congresspeople continues to make waves in Washington. And this time Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has taken aim at corporate titans in big pharma.

She pointed out one inconvenient truth for the ‘capitalist’ giants: why are publicly subsidised drug corporations allowed to privatise their profits and charge the public huge fees?

Pharmaceutical corporations: drugged on public money

Ocasio-Cortez has made a complicated issue extremely simple. She asked, if the American public is an “early investor” in the research and development of drugs, then why does it get no benefits in return?:

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Ocasio-Cortez received a great deal of praise for her questioning, including this moving account:

Others working in the industry shared their infuriating stories of a corrupt system:

The UK too?

But this issue isn’t exclusive to the United States. As argued in a joint report between STOP AIDS and Global Justice Now, the NHS is also being “ripped off” by British pharmaceutical companies. As the Independent wrote when summarising the report:

The NHS is spending millions of pounds on medicines that were discovered with taxpayer-funded research.

The UK is after all:

the second largest funder country of global health research and development after the US.

The Global Justice report also damningly showed that two of the NHS’s most expensive drugs were developed with substantial sums of public money. For example, the prostate cancer drug, Abiraterone, was:

developed by the primarily publicly funded Institute of Cancer Research and later bought by a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. The advanced prostate cancer treatment was deemed too expensive for the NHS for years. The NHS now spends £98 per day per patient on the drug, despite a generic alternative being available for less than £11 per day per patient.

Such an extortionate system cripples the NHS. Between 2011 -2016 alone, the NHS spent 15% of its annual budget on drugs – which is more than its current spending deficit.

In essence, drug companies are selling back drugs to the public for huge profits that they have already paid to develop. The situation was described by Heidi Chow of Global Justice Now as “nothing short of daylight robbery of British taxpayers”.

A just alternative

As Labour’s shadow minister for industrial strategy Chi Onwurah argues:

When the public sector contributes, it gets a share of the rewards – this should be the principle at the heart of life sciences innovation.

And one Twitter user gave another simple solution to the problem:

Ocasio-Cortez raised an issue that is important both in the US and the UK. And it begs the question – if the state can fund and develop drugs, why not take them out the private sector completely? Medicine should be a human right, not an opportunity to financially exploit the sick.

Featured image by YouTube, YouTube and 401(K) 2012/Flickr

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    1. Over the last 18 months I think I’ve noticed another way that big pharma has been using underhand tactics to maximise profits. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed and I can’t be 100% sure at this point but one of my medications has had less and less contents in them for a while now. I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and take 30mg Zormorph (morphine) capsules morning and night. The granules inside them were always level with the centre of capsule, where the clear side meets the pink but I’ve recently noticed that they don’t fill up to the center anymore. It’s not ‘all’ capsules but definitely ‘most’. I’ve been on them for a long time so they don’t do much of anything anyway but when I take one that’s filled properly I can feel the difference. I’ve taken photos of them to demonstrate the difference between some of them but kept them in the blister packs to avoid accusations of tampering. I don’t have suitable scales to weigh them so I asked my pharmacist for help but she didn’t have any either because everything arrives pre packaged anyway. She did say though that all medicines are uniformly manufactured so it’s not a case of the granules being different sizes and she was surprised to see that there were clear differences between the amounts inside. Some had as much as a third missing! I usually pop the capsules out and put them in a small pill bottle after checking and taking photos of them so they’re randomised as I take them. I do this to avoid seeing how much is in the capsule before I take it and hence avoid any placebo like affects so I can more reliably feel which ones have less or more in them. Very slowly over time there’s been more and more missing. On quite a few occasions I’ve even started to feel withdrawal despite taking them correctly! Without the right scales I can’t be 100% sure but it’s started to look like the manufacturer is skimming off the top to produce more sellable capsules. The company that’s makes them is Ethypharm.

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