How Big Pharma Destroys Global Health
by Nick Dearden
Verso Books / 336 pages / 3 October 2023
In Pharmanomics, Global Justice Now director Nick Dearden digs down into the way we produce our medicines and finds that Big Pharma is failing us, with catastrophic consequences.
The big pharmaceutical firms are more interested in profit than health. This was made clear as governments rushed to produce vaccines during the Covid pandemic. Behind the much-trumpeted scientific breakthroughs, major companies found new ways of gouging billions from governments in the West while abandoning the Global South. But this is only the latest episode in a long history of financialising medicine – from Purdue’s rapacious marketing of highly addictive OxyContin, through Martin Shkreli’s hiking the price of a lifesaving drug, to the 4.5 million South Africans needlessly deprived of HIV/AIDS medication.
Since the 1990s, Big Pharma has gone out of its way to protect its property through the patent system. As a result, the business has focused not on researching new medicines but on building monopolies. This system has helped restructure our economy away from invention and production in order to benefit financial markets. It has fundamentally reshaped the relationship between richer and poorer countries, as the access to new medicines and the permission to manufacture them is ruthlessly policed. In response, Dearden offers a pathway to a fairer, safer system for all.
Nick Dearden’s book is about the structural foundations of a global market in life-saving medicines. A market dependent on taxpayer subsidies, but designed to strip both rich and poor governments of the power to improve health. An essential read for those that care about saving lives, and that want the system changed.
— Ann Pettifor, author of A Case for the Green New Deal
Pharmanomics brings together detailed investigative research with lessons from the frontlines of the fight for access to medicines. It exposes a global apartheid in which a few mostly white male Pharma bosses make billions while billions of people are left without essential medicines. It exposes how the problem of medical monopolies is not a few rule-breakers but the rules themselves. Most crucially, it shows how the system which put profits over people’s lives was man-made, and how through collective action people can unmake it, for everyone’s health.
— Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS Executive Director and United Nations Under-Secretary-General
“Dearden … lets a vast array of scandalous facts do the talking in support of his thesis, and makes a cogent argument for the decolonization of the world economy and the liberation of captive knowledge. Equally impressively, he devotes two extensive chapters to real world strategies for change. It’s this practical bent which makes Pharmanomics just the tonic.”
— Dinyar Godrej, New Internationalist