Nurses call on Broken Hill hospital to respond to bullying accusations

Former nurses at Broken Hill hospital in far west NSW are calling on the local health district to release details of an investigation into allegations of systematic bullying.

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Does It Really Cost 2.6 Billion to Fund a New Drug?

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I recently lamented about how the high cost of drugs has been a road block in my daughter’s medical care. Like many people with cancer, she is taking targeted drugs which have been critical to slowing the progression of her disease. These drugs come with a high price tag and it can take weeks or months to get approval from our insurance company whenever a new drug is added to her treatment plan.

Some commenters felt that high priced drugs are inevitable–the cost of doing business since pharmaceutical research and development (R&D) is so expensive. Is this assumption correct? It turns out it may not be.

The most commonly cited statistic comes from a flawed study by Tufts University which states the cost of bringing a new drug to market is 2.6 billion. The Tufts study failed to mention that a large number of new medications sold by pharmaceutical companies were originally discovered from publicly funded research. So, it may cost 2.6 billion to bring a new drug to market, but is the pharmaceutical company actually footing the entire bill? Spoiler alert: no, they’re not.

Let’s revisit that 2.6 billion dollar price tag again. Is it even accurate? In 2011, Stanford University published an in-depth study called “Demythologizing The High Costs of Pharmaceutical Research.” This study revealed all kinds of problems with the Tufts study. For example, it didn’t account for therapeutic classes of drugs, made no adjustment for tax-payer subsidies or deductions and did not actually verify reported costs. Did I mention the study was also funded, in part, by the pharmaceutical industry? Additionally, some of the costs reported were very indirectly related to the actual drug development costs. These included: land and building purchases, promotion for new drugs, paying off medical journals and technical software upgrades.

Additionally, breakthrough drugs (the kind of drugs that change the game for a particular disease or condition), tended to come from U.S. government investment compared with pharma companies to the tune of 10 billion spent by the U.S. government versus 2 billion for pharma companies.

Is pharma essentially double dipping by profiting from tax free research while overcharging patients who desperately need the drugs that come from this research?

It is extremely important for us to understand how flawed the R&D number is because this is the answer pharma companies give when we question the extremely high cost of cancer and other specialty drugs.

My personal conclusion, after doing hours of research on this subject, is that the Tufts number of 2.6 billion is vastly inflated for most drugs though there may be a few outliers. These likely aren’t “game changer” drugs — the kind that actually work towards curing a disease like cancer.

I also think we’re focusing on the wrong thing here. Remember that list of costs I mentioned above which included expenses like marketing and PR? All of that is considered the cost of doing business. After all, pharma companies have to keep their investors happy and that means dumping billions into marketing their products. Herein lies the problem.

When nine out of the top ten pharma companies spend more on marketing than on R&D, then are we really paying for the cost of a new drug, or are we footing the bill for greedy companies who are essentially profiting from our misfortune? These are the questions we should be asking ourselves, our politicians and our drug suppliers.

We are turning illness into a commodity. We are giving the keys to the safe to the wrong people! It’s a terrifying equation. Take a company whose number one incentive is profit then give it the means to create new products without assuming 100% of the risk (e.g., via government funded research and tax breaks), then tell them they can set any price they want when they create (or acquire) a viable product and what do you get?

You get cancer drugs that cost $10,000 per month and cystic fibrosis drugs that cost $25,000. You get an industry that shies away from innovation because copying a blockbuster drug (and changing the formula only slightly) a lot more profitable then inventing something new, something needed, for a much smaller patient population. You get fees that are totally unsustainable for insurance companies to pay without drastically increasing premiums and so you get patients like my daughter who must wait weeks, months or possibly forever to get the treatment they need.

You get monsters like Martin Shkreli who raise prices on older drugs for one simple reason–they can. They do so unapologetically in the name of capitalism. Mr. Shkreli is only a single head on this many-headed beast. He is the canary in the coal mine — a cautionary tale to all of us who struggle to pay our insurance premiums each month, and wait for days to get our medication approved.

We made it okay for a guy like Shkreli to thrive because we put a price tag on health care. We need to stop this. We need laws to prevent this from happening. We need to take profit margin and share holders out of the equation. There is no place for capitalism in health care. There is too much at stake. When you’ll do anything to save your life, or the life of your child, then guys like Shkreli know that no price is too high — and he took a $3.50 pill and raised the price to $750.

Pharmaceutical companies had a chance to be part of the solution — they could have innovated amazing cures. They could have worked to solve major health care crises and earned a place of honor among the world’s greatest problem solvers. Instead they chose profit over humanity.

I think this means they should lose the privilege of creating and selling drugs. Give it back to the universities and publicly funded source. Take big pharma out of the picture. We can’t afford to wait for them to have a sudden crisis of conscious.

— This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.


Our Smartphone Obsession May Be Hurting Our Eyes

Digital communication has become an integral part of 21st-century life. Our smartphones and tablets have become pocket-sized personal assistants: reminding us of appointments, giving us news, keeping us in touch with family and friends. Let’s admit that there is a hypnotic quality to our smartphones — we steal a glance whenever possible to see what’s new.

We are living multi-screen lives and are more productive because of it. However with World Sight Day approaching on Oct. 8, it’s a good time to consider how squinting at small screens is affecting our vision. World Sight Day focuses global attention on blindness and vision impairment and eye health professionals are increasingly worried about the consequences of “digital vision.”

Our appetite for digital media is ravenous. Online measurement firm comScore recently came out with startling statistics showing that we’re bordering on obsession. Over the past two years, the time we spent with digital devices boomed by 49 percent overall. Handheld devices led the way – time using smartphones exploded by an amazing 90 percent and tablets surged by 64 percent.

Squinting at the phone may cause us to squint at everything else. Research housed through the Vision Impact Institute has shown that myopia is rapidly rising in East Asia, Europe and the United States, especially among younger people. And research is pointing to factors other than genetics, such as behavior and environment, as causing this epidemic of shortsightedness. The common denominator among these populations seems to be time spent using digital devices.

While not seeing distances clearly can be frustrating, even dangerous when driving, it can be corrected with eyeglasses, contact lenses and refractive surgery. However, high myopia has been associated with a greater risk for ocular disorders, including retinal detachment, glaucoma and cataracts.

In addition to faltering eye sight, there are the related socio-economic considerations. A University of Lyon study of 400 Parisian students ages 15-22 showed a link between visual impairment and academic performance. All the students completed a questionnaire and had a vision exam, with those showing persistent problems given additional exams and corrective lenses or therapy if necessary. Academic performance was evaluated before and after the vision exams.

The research showed significant links between bad vision and poor academic performance. Then further analysis of the data indicated that lack of preventive measures – such as regular vision exams – had a negative effect on academic performance while adoption of corrective measures had a positive result.

This study and World Sight Day are timely reminders about the importance of a regular annual comprehensive eye exam. We’re good about getting the annual physical and dental check-up, but often we aren’t as diligent about seeing the eye doctor once a year.

In addition, we all can take small steps to make our digital obsession healthier for our eyes. First, make sure the settings are adequate – increase screen font size and improve the contrast. Always use good lighting but avoid glare on those small screens.

Second, it’s important to exercise our eyes just as we exercise our bodies. Every few minutes, look up from the screen and focus on something in the distance. This exercise helps prevent eye strain and uses more of your ocular muscles. And don’t forget to take breaks occasionally – yes, it’s beneficial to put the phone or tablet down for a few minutes and look at something else.

Finally – get outside (that is once you’ve stopped reading this on your smartphone). Sunshine can be the antidote to digital vision, according to some research. While the sun’s role isn’t completely understood, an Australian study showed that children who spent more time outside playing in natural light had a lower rate of myopia. Chinese schools are even experimenting with classrooms made of transparent materials to help stem its epidemic of shortsightedness in young people.

Regardless of our age or how many digital devices we have, World Sight Day is a good reminder to make that eye exam appointment you’ve been putting off and take care of your eyes. They’re the only pair you’ve got.

— This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.