The Biotech Valley Of Death: Ebola Vaccine Sat On The Shelf
The phrase "The Biotech Valley of Death" is used by researchers in the medical field when drugs, vaccines and antibiotics show initial promise at the early stages of research and development but fail to receive the necessary financial support for market acceptance. As a result, many vaccines and antibiotics with the claimed potential to improve human health end up hitting a "stone wall", only to die a slow and painful death on the shelf of some government funded facility or university research lab. Why is this?
For many the reason centers upon the way the "system" is set up.
At the initial stages of a new drug's life cycle, it is usually a university or a government funded facility that undertakes the initial research. At this stage, the cost although high, is relatively inexpensive when compared to the cost of the drug as it works its way through its life cycle towards a more mature level. As the product moves through the system and becomes more scrutinized as a drug that has supposed health benefits, costs begin to rise exponentially because of the clinical testing phase that is then required - at this phase of the drug's life cycle it is not uncommon that hundreds of millions or even a billion dollars would be required for proper scientific clinical testing, as well as to ensure, that all necessary and required government regulatory conditions are met.
Under normal circumstances, when a product does reach this stage of its life cycle, it is no longer the university or the government funded institution that determines if the product is going to move forward, but a large publicly traded [Wall Street] pharmaceutical company. It is this entity that will determine if the product enters the market - its decision will be based solely on profit, or earnings per share.
At this stage, the pharmaceutical company would determine if the product has any profitability. They would determine the costs associated with bringing the product to market versus the projected revenues. Revenues will ultimately be based on projected demand, which in turn, would be based on anticipated infectious rates.
In a recent article published in the New York Times, titled Ebola Vaccine Was Shelved For Years it seems that what was claimed to be a promising Ebola vaccine was initially funded and researched by publicly funded government institutions was ultimately shelved by large pharmaceutical companies because the total cost of bringing the vaccine to market was much higher than projected revenues - in other words, [at the time of their decision] there were not enough people infected with the virus to warrant the financial risk [anticipated future infectious rates were also considered to be very low].
Fast forward to current developments; a recent article quoted the head of the International Monetary Fund [IMF] as stating that the Ebola virus will have an economic cost of 32 billion dollars.
Yes, times have indeed changed since that Ebola vaccine was put on the shelf. Today, the Ebola virus is considered an epidemic that is sweeping across Western Africa; the World Health Organization [WHO] has issued a statement saying that the Ebola virus is the most severe acute health emergency in modern times; and pharmaceutical companies are now racing to find a vaccine!
Forecasting future events is impossible. But if the New York Times article is correct - and we have no reason to doubt that it is incorrect - then the one question that has to be asked is this...
"What or who do large pharmaceutical companies value more; your health? Profit? or Shareholders?"