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Why isn’t downward competitive pressure on drug prices more effective?

Summary:
Using current methods of inventing drugs, Borisy believes it will be possible to create new medicines that mimic the effects of existing big sellers, and bring them to market in a matter of years. Then EQRx will sell them to insurers and large hospital systems at a discount, displacing the innovators. Because its medicines will be cheaper to develop, EQRx will be able to make a handy profit despite these lower prices. The key question is whether health insurers and giant hospital systems have gotten desperate enough to want to shake up the system. Quite simply, Borisy is going to invent and develop new drugs, and sell them for less money than the competition. He calls this “a radical proposition.” In any other sector, it would just be called “business.” But the branded drug business is

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Using current methods of inventing drugs, Borisy believes it will be possible to create new medicines that mimic the effects of existing big sellers, and bring them to market in a matter of years. Then EQRx will sell them to insurers and large hospital systems at a discount, displacing the innovators. Because its medicines will be cheaper to develop, EQRx will be able to make a handy profit despite these lower prices. The key question is whether health insurers and giant hospital systems have gotten desperate enough to want to shake up the system.

Quite simply, Borisy is going to invent and develop new drugs, and sell them for less money than the competition. He calls this “a radical proposition.” In any other sector, it would just be called “business.”

But the branded drug business is different, in part for structural reasons but also because people and doctors tend to be reticent to switch to a new medicine just because it’s cheaper. That has helped lead to dramatically higher prices.

Why, Borisy asks, have prices of, for instance, cancer drugs gone up eightfold over 20 years if the technology to make new medicines is steadily improving, and if we are, in fact, as he says, in “a golden age of biotech and pharmaceutical innovation”?

EQRx is his antidote. On Monday morning, the company is also announcing that it has raised $200 million from a bevy of top tech and biotech investors.

Over the next 10 years, Borisy said, he’d like for EQRx to start developing somewhere in the ballpark of 50 different experimental medicines. He wants the company to come out with its first medicine in five years, and to have 10 drugs within a decade.

Will this succeed?  Even if so, why did it take so long for this to happen?  The article offers this explanation:

There are multiple reasons creating a company like EQRx will be difficult. The idea of creating a “fast-follower” — a new drug that is much like an existing one — is anything but new. In fact, it has yielded some of the pharmaceutical industry’s biggest sellers. Lipitor followed several other cholesterol medicines to market, but became the best-selling drug in the world in the 2000s. Rheumatoid arthritis treatment Humira, the industry’s current best-seller, was introduced after two similar medicines, Remicade and Enbrel, were already on the market.

But fast-followers do not compete on price, because lowering price has not historically resulted in selling more units of a drug. Instead, the least successful medicine in a category will sometimes raise its price to make up for lost market share, and the best-sellers will often follow, raising their own prices.

Here is the full Matthew Herper piece, via Sarah Constantin.  Model this!

The post Why isn’t downward competitive pressure on drug prices more effective? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Tyler Cowen
Tyler Cowen is an American economist, academic, and writer. He occupies the Holbert C. Harris Chair of economics as a professor at George Mason University and is co-author, with Alex Tabarrok, of the popular economics blog Marginal Revolution. Cowen and Tabarrok have also ventured into online education by starting Marginal Revolution University. He currently writes the "Economic Scene" column for the New York Times, and he also writes for such publications as The New Republic, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Newsweek, and the Wilson Quarterly.

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