Profit Over Lives?


By Denzel McCampbell

It did not take long for Martin Shkreli to become the poster boy (Pharma Bro) for what is wrong with the pharmaceutical industry in the United States. Last month, Shkreli made it into headlines and onto our social media timelines with news that he increased the price of Daraprim, a drug used primarily by HIV, AIDS, and cancer patients, by 5,000 percent.

Shkreli did not stop there. Not only did he raise the price on the drug, but he also has yet to follow through on a decision to reverse the increase.

Shkreli has been met with outrage from many folks, from the aunts on Facebook who post about apple pie recipes to candidates running for President of the United States. The move was unpopular and immoral to most, but it was not unique. Shkreli is not the first person to raise the cost of a prescription drug by an outrageous amount and it’s highly doubtful he will be the last.

The attention garnered by Shkreli’s actions does bring up one overarching question about the American healthcare system and pharmaceutical industry – Is private profit more important that public health?

Pharma Bro’s actions contrast greatly with those of Jonas Salk, the man who discovered the first vaccine for polio. Salk was tasked with finding out more about the Poliovirus at the height of its epidemic in the mid-1900s. Instead of just researching more about the virus that was infecting more than 60,000 children and killing thousands, Salk went further and discovered the first vaccine to combat this debilitating disease. Once the vaccine was proven to be successful, Salk was asked who owned the patent. He responded, “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” Keep in mind, Salk actually did the work to create the vaccine versus Shkreli, who is as disconnected from medical science as he is human welfare.

Polio was present in the everyday lives of many Americans. Whether it was oneself, a family member, a friend, or a neighbor, polio was no stranger. This prevalence is similar to one that we face today with many health ailments such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, heart disease, etc. So why aren’t we seeing the same compassion and willingness to help with the advancement of public health as we saw with Salk and others during his time?

Americans have to wait around hoping for a medical breakthrough for ailments, while many drug companies buy up patents on drugs and lock in a price that will give them optimal profit.

It is time that we move away from the market-driven, private profit model that we have in the United States. It is time for us to empower our research communities in the public sector in government and on the campuses of colleges and universities across the country. It is time for us to fund our government agencies at appropriate levels to bring the best and brightest of our scientists onboard to find cures and treatments to the many health issues that affect our loved ones and ourselves.

Once we do those things, folks like Martin Shkreli will have no place in our health system and Americans will no longer be burdened with financially prohibitive solutions to their well-being.