“Big Pharma, all-powerful labs”: big profits, big scandals

Written by Steven mark
Gilead has marketed its rare hepatitis C drug Sovaldi, for $ 84,000 (€ 70,900, for three months of treatment) in the United States.


Novartis, Roche, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi: these five behemoths of the pharmaceutical industry – respectively two Swiss, two American and one French – are commonly nicknamed “Big Pharma”. Their annual turnover in 2019 fluctuates between $ 45 billion and $ 70 billion, amounts greater than the GDP of many states. What to feel like floating very far above the law. Especially in the unprecedented context of a pandemic, the outcome of which depends on the marketing, by the same pharmaceutical industry, of a reliable and accessible vaccine.

Read also Pfizer to merge its non-patented medicines business with Mylan

Those who follow industry news know most of the cases in the documentary Big Pharma, almighty labs, directed by Luc Hermann and Claire Lasko. Like that of Daraprim, a drug against toxoplasmosis and malaria, the price of which jumped 5,400% in September 2015, by decision of Martin Shkreli, manager of a hedge fund. His cynicism is unsettling. “If I could go back in time, I would have increased the price even more”, he said in a public hearing, when he was accused of fraud.

Read also Martin Shkreli, the man who drives up drug prices, charged with fraud

In the same vein, we discover how Novartis succeeded in imposing “its” Lucentis to treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD), although it is forty times more expensive than Avastin produced by its competitor and partner. Roche – at the end of a rather long demonstration.

Dangerous side effects

Another pathology, another practice. Sovaldi manufactured by Gilead, a rare drug against hepatitis C, was first sold for $ 84,000 (70,900 euros, for three months of treatment) in the United States, then 42,000 euros in Europe, before that a generic of Mylan does not obtain the marketing authorization in developing countries (80 euros) thanks, among other things, to the arbitration of the former French Minister of Health Marisol Touraine. The latter also intervenes about Kymriah (Novartis), gene therapy prescribed for young people with leukemia and invoiced at 320,000 euros.

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also The incredible inflation of drug prices

If price is a lever for the power of laboratories, it is not the only one. They also need to “retain” their patient-consumers. One of them, Johnson & Johnson, is currently accused in the United States of encouraging potentially addictive overuse of an opioid-based painkiller. Others have not hesitated to deny the dangerous side effects of their products. This was the case of the Servier laboratories with the Mediator, withdrawn from the market thirty years after it was put on sale; or Depakine, the antiepileptic drug from Sanofi prescribed for pregnant women and responsible for physical and motor disorders in thousands of children. Among them, the son of Marine Martin, who testifies at length to his fight.

Read also More than 14,000 pregnant women were exposed to Dépakine between 2007 and 2014

As the omnipotence of the pharmaceutical industry asserts itself in the reports, a few changes seem to be underway: Martin Shkreli was sentenced in March 2018 to seven years in prison. In the Dépakine case, Sanofi was indicted for “Manslaughter” in August 2020; in September, the French Competition Authority fined Novartis, Roche and Genentech € 445 million for abusive practices in the treatment of AMD.

Read also Dépakine: from 2,150 to 4,100 children victims of malformations in France for fifty years

Big Pharma, almighty labs, by Luc Hermann and Claire Lasko (Fr., 2018, 90 min). On until December 13.

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Steven mark

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