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Pilots want to live too

The pharmaceutical industry: greedy capitalists or saintlike idealists?


I have always been afraid of flying and no probability statistics or courses addressing fear of flying have helped. How is it possible to get used to the idea that flying is safe when it is a fact that planes crash from time to time? There are two possible outcomes: we either land safely and survive or we crash and die. The low probability of the latter outcome doesn’t help ease my mind. Instead, as we descend through the clouds for landing, I cling to the only mantra offering some consolation: “The pilots want to live as much as I want to and they will do everything in their power to land this aircraft safely”.

We all know that cell phones are made so as not to last and that gambling companies may not have our best interests at heart, but is that also true for the pharmaceutical industry? Why do they not cure cancer or Alzheimer’s instead of just developing lifelong treatments merely slowing the inevitable progression into darkness and death, treatments that are to be taken, and paid for, over decades? The answer is simple: we are all potential patients and we are all equally interested in finding a cure for these debilitating diseases. Cancer is the main cause of death in Europe today. We all run almost a 50% risk to get cancer during our lifetime. Disease strikes without discernment and often there is little we can do from a preventive perspective.

Most treatments don’t cure diseases and the reason is that most diseases, with a few exceptions, aren’t curable, but are a consequence of age, nature’s mistakes and less favourable lifestyle choices. Most commonly, it just a case of bad luck. Cancer is sometimes curable, but the cure is almost always surgical. Many of the autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, rheumatic diseases, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel diseases can be managed, but they aren’t curable, it’s our own imperfect immune system making mistakes. Heart disease is often caused by aging of the cardiovascular system and less favourable lifestyle choices. Childhood orphan diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, have a genetic origin, meaning that both disease and treatment will be lifelong. So, expecting a cure for many diseases from the pharmaceutical industry is expecting too much.

The industry is working hard. If we just look at Alzheimer’s disease, there are more than 100 unique substances/therapies in ongoing trials registered in clincialtrials.gov – the international data base for projects in clinical phase. For each project in clinical phase, there may be two or three additional projects in preclinical phase. For the company that cracks the Alzheimer riddle, there will be untold fame and fortune and they would set the market price, protected by patents and regulations. People working in Life Science are not idealists, we’re designing products aiming to relieve or if possible, cure disease, simply because it makes sense.

I am personally insanely proud to be working within the Life Science Industry. The privilege to be healthy, and to know there are treatments available when disease strikes, is the greatest wealth of any society. I liken us to the pilots of my plane, doing all they can to land their aircrafts safely one after one. They and we do our very best because they are also on the aircraft of life with family and friends.


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