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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Why hasn't the Pharma Industry created more antidotes and vaccines?


The answer to this question, unfortunately, comes down to money.  The market for vaccines, antidotes and antibiotics to treat chemical and biological weapons is very unpredictable. One day they're in demand and the next day they're not.

A year ago, hardly anyone considered the threat of chemical or biological terror. Now everyone is thinking about it. Hopefully, in a few years time it will have become unimportant again.  You can see why this type of business isn't very attractive to the pharmaceutical industry.

Another problem lies in dealing with the constraints of working with these type of chemicals. Because of security factors, there is a lot of red tape to deal with, a lot of special procedures to follow and a lot of special precautions to take. All of this is important from a security point of view, but it's also a big deterrent to the major pharmaceutical companies.

At the moment, with everyone talking about the threat of chemical or biological attack, we might be inclined to think that the situation will quickly change regarding the production of appropriate treatments. However, unless we see some government intervention, this isn't necessarily the case.

For most pharmaceutical companies, treatments for chemical and biological agents account for a tiny fraction of their income and, unlike the defense industry, they have received very little encouragement from the government to invest more heavily in this area.  The government can't, of course, create a reliable market for these antidotes and vaccines.

The alternative then is to offer some kind of incentive to the drugs companies to develop them. We can hope, and probably expect, to see some developments on this front in the short to medium term.

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