I woke up the day after Election Day to be greeted by the ass-kicking, Bush-whacking result of a new majority in the House and Senate, and the resignation of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. I looked at the bottom of my coffee cup for remnants of drugs before I allowed myself the ecstasy of feeling my withering faith in government restored. I don’t delude myself into thinking that Democrats will have fewer lobbyists, or that the wheels of government will move more quickly, but with new players I feel new life and hope for America.
Talking about my withering faith restored, it’s not only in America’s government, but also in believing that we may get greedy drug companies to change as well. “Big Pharma” has, until now, failed to provide low-cost drugs for treatable diseases like TB, leishmaniasis, hookworm, river blindness, bilharzia, and malaria (which is estimated to kill a child every 30 seconds). Since these are typically Third World diseases, there is no economic advantage for drug companies to produce them.
Dr. Richard Chaisson, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins, found that Moxifloxcin, a new antibiotic from Bayer, fights tuberculosis. TB afflicts 4.5 million people globally, but Bayer didn’t want to provide the drug because it threatened their bottom-line. But Dr. Chaisson made an independent application to the FDA to conduct human trials. The FDA not only approved it but offered him $1.3 million in funding. Bayer, shocked at this development, decided to support Chaisson too.
On another inspiring front, Dr. Victoria Hale launched a nonprofit organization to address the treatment of Kala Azar, a type of leishmaniasis that affects half a million people a year. Pharmacia, the creator of Paramomycin stopped making it when the drug fell out of favor in the West, even though it cured 94% of the people who suffered from the disease. An Indian firm, Gland Pharma, decided to manufacture the drug at low cost. The globalization of the marketplace makes it more likely that we will increase access to life-saving medicines.
From disgust with my government and corporate greed, I woke up last week with my withering faith restored. Now if we can only stop screwing elderly Americans and provide them with affordable drug coverage, I’d think we’d arrived at the second coming.