In 1955, Dr. Jonas Salk successfully developed a vaccine for polio that would eventually eradicate the debilitating disease in the United States and most other countries. Since then, there have been countless medical advances to treat major diseases, but virtually no cures. One reason may be because curing people is bad for Big Pharma’s business.
The notorious investment firm Goldman Sachs in a recent financial report to clients asked, “Is curing patients a sustainable business model? The potential to deliver ‘one-shot cures’ is one of the most attractive aspects of gene therapy … However, such treatments offer a very different outlook with regard to recurring revenue versus chronic therapies … while this proposition carries tremendous value for patients and society, it could represent a challenge for genome medicine developers looking for sustained cash flow.”
Cures cut into profits and thus, are bad investment choices, Goldman Sachs analyst Salveen Richter wrote in the report. He cited Gilead Sciences’ treatments for hepatitis C, which cures more than 90 percent of the patients who have used it. Sales for this novel drug topped out at $12.5 billion in 2015, but have been falling ever since and are expected to ring in at less than $4 billion this year.
“GILD is a case in point,” the report reads. “Where the success of its hepatitis C franchise has gradually exhausted the available pool of treatable patients. In the case of infectious diseases such as hepatitis C, curing existing patients also decreases the number of carriers able to transmit the virus to new patients, thus the incident pool also declines. Where an incident pool remains stable (eg, in cancer) the potential for a cure poses less risk to the sustainability of a franchise.”
In other words, curing people or eradicating disease does not sustain Big Pharma’s profits.
The take-home the Goldman Sachs analyst offered to biotech firms was to address large markets, like hemophilia, which is a $9-10 billion worldwide market growing at 6-7 percent annually; address disorders with high incidence such as spinal muscular atrophy, which impact a person’s ability to walk, eat or breathe; and focus on constant innovation and portfolio expansion.
“Pace of innovation will also play a role as future programs can offset the declining revenue trajectory of prior assets,” the report read.