The development of affordable and long lasting treatments for cancer is being held back by a need to satisfy the ambitious commercial objectives of the pharmaceutical industry, which are often at odds with the needs of patients. This has led to exorbitant pricing for new drugs, a failure to invest in promising discoveries that have limited commercial benefits and a drip-feed of new drugs of marginal therapeutic benefit rather than genuine breakthroughs for patients.
Our goal may be to beat cancer sooner but the current profit-led R&D system is geared to beat cancer later, as that's more beneficial for the drug companies who we depend on to turn cancer research into new medicines. We desperately need the R&D system to be reformed, so that it focuses on maximising benefits for patients rather than maximising profits.
In October 2014, Professor Paul Workman, Chief Executive of the Institute of Cancer Research and one of the world’s leading experts in cancer drug discovery, told the World Oncology Forum that “the global system for discovering new cancer drugs is broken and failing to turn scientific advances into enough innovative new medicines”.
In September 2015, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe concluded that conflicts of interest between profits and public health within the pharmaceutical industry have led to a lack of new drugs of real therapeutic benefit in recent years and shocking levels of profiteering. Backed by the UK, it voted overwhelmingly in favour of a European-wide Resolution to tackle the issue.
In March 2016, Sir Richard Thompson, the Queen’s personal doctor for 21 years and a former-president of the Royal College of Physicians, warned that drug companies are developing medicines they can profit from, rather than those which are likely to be the most beneficial and he accused the NHS of failing to stand up to the pharmaceutical companies.
It is madness that governments are allowing cancer to be commercially exploited given the scale of suffering and death, and a kick in the teeth for all those who help by donating money to cancer research. We need to stop treating cancer like a money-making opportunity and start treating it like the humanitarian crisis it is.
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