Competition is the rallying cry of the free market. In the world of business, the stimulus that vigorous competition provides to develop ever better products and services, and to make them available at affordable prices, is at the heart of the commercial creed, a creed that is proclaimed with as much conviction in the pharmaceutical sector as in any other. In many sectors, there seems no reason to question the approach; in much of the western world it has supplied the bulk of the population with affordable clothes, with radios and reading matter, with opportunities for recreation and for travel, and with a fair market choice. All the same, there can be a case for regulation where an entirely free market fails to meet some of society’s most essential needs, and particularly where, for one reason or another, the prevailing prices are such as to put an unreasonable burden on society or render medicines out of reach of the poor. The Costs of Innovation If the cost of developing and/or producing a particular life-saving medicine is indeed so high that it will be financially beyond the reach of some of the patients who need it, that fact may simply have to be accepted; in that case, public finance will have to be mobilized to solve the access problem and save lives.
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