Ebola: Should profit-seeking drive development of Ebola medicines?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Ebola
HOW WILL A CURE BE FOUND? In addition to corporate and university research, government-funded centers are working on the puzzle. This photo shows a researcher at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Maryland, better known as USAMRIID (pronounced you-SAM-rid).

HOW WILL A CURE BE FOUND? In addition to corporate and university research, government-funded centers are working on the puzzle. This photo shows a researcher at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Maryland, better known as USAMRIID (pronounced you-SAM-rid).

Have you heard of “Ebolanomics”? It’s what happens when humanitarian needs clash with the profit motive.

So far this week, we’ve discussed how Ebola has dominated the news and our daily conversations, the extent to which people are changing their personal travel plans, whether hysteria makes sense, and the public’s slipping confidence in the federal government’s ability to handle the Ebola threat. Today, we consider the economics of the situation.

“Ebolanomics” has entered our lexicon to refer to the challenges of the business model for developing vaccines or treatments for Ebola. To put it bluntly, drug companies are for-profit enterprises and there isn’t much money to be made in medicines for Ebola or other so-called tropical diseases that predominately afflict the peoples of poor nations. While there is certainly an humanitarian need for these medicines, drug companies aren’t going to make much money by developing them.

Drug companies make much more money by developing and selling medicines for the ills and afflictions of the people of affluent nations. Now, I’m not chiding drug companies for focusing on profits. Making money is an imperative for private companies organized as for-profit, market-driven corporations. And drug companies do considerable philanthropic work.

But the dilemma remains. How do we promote and reward the development of medicines where there is dire human need for them, but little money to be made? Should the government fund the research? Should big prizes be awarded for breakthroughs? These are some of the questions be considered right now by the World Health Organization and other organizations.

Should humanitarian needs outweigh the profit motive?

How would you solve the dilemma?

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