The Pharmaceutical Industry in Contemporary Capitalism


In this piece for the Monthly Review, Joel Lexchin details four strategies that the pharmaceutical industry is utilizing in order to maintain its high level of profits: developing “nichebuster” drugs, corrupting the regulatory process, strengthening intellectual property rights, and controlling knowledge about the benefits and harms of drugs.

“Pharmaceutical corporations are extremely powerful due to their wealth. They achieve this power with the active collusion of regulatory authorities and the governments that oversee these authorities. The introduction of user fees has meant that commercial values are replacing public health as a priority for organizations such as the FDA. In the process, drugs are approved with increasingly weaker evidence, and the result is poor-quality therapy and more safety problems associated with the drugs that are marketed. Ratcheting up the strength of IPRs through international and bilateral trade deals helps protect the profits of the corporations but means that, globally, access to essential medicines is restricted, especially in developing countries.

Finally, the industry is able to manipulate knowledge about the value of pharmaceuticals not only to the detriment of what doctors know, but more important, to the detriment of people’s health. At the same time as the industry is developing ways of coping with its internal crisis, a crisis that is inherent in the capitalist organization of pharmaceutical production, there are also serious proposals to curb its power and to ensure that drugs are developed and priced to meet real health needs and not the need for ever larger profits.”