Saturday, February 01, 2014

The unbearable lightness of commitments to diseases of the poor

AstraZeneca, Britain's second largest pharmaceutical company, has closed down its research and development site in India as it has decided to stop research activities into neglected, tropical diseases. This despite the company having pledged (not particularly bindingly) to contribute financially and otherwise to the control of such diseases by 2020, along with government aid agencies, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and 13 other pharmaceutical companies. The motivation for the decision is overwhelmingly economic: AstraZeneca shares have been losing value over the past while, and neglected tropical diseases are no money makers, to the contrary: those mostly likely to need treatment for such diseases are the least likely to be able to pay for them.

The pullout of AstraZeneca will only reinforce skepticism regarding the commitments of pharmaceutical companies towards neglected diseases. To what extent are these commitments genuine and to be taken seriously? To what extent are they public relations strategies to be abandoned as soon as they cut too far into the bottom line?  

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