Who hates the drug industry now?

Posted: Oct 17, 2001 12:00 AM
Now that everyone on Capitol Hill is popping antibiotic Cipro pills like they were Altoid mints, it is worth reminding our prescription-clutching public servants that their precious drugs don't grow on government trees. Somebody in the private sector invented these miracle products. Somebody invested in them. Somebody tested them, somebody manufactured them, and somebody jumped through years of regulatory hoops to get FDA approval for them. The drug industry is an indispensable tool in our war on terrorism. We have no idea what the next bioterrorist threat may be -- and where our most effective weapons may originate. Cipro, now the best defense against anthrax, was originally used for urinary tract infections and diarrhea. Drug development is a Herculean task, and a thankless one. It's easy to take for granted all those who work in the pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device industries -- from the anonymous lab technician and dedicated researcher to the risk-taking CEO and visionary investor. After laboring mightily to bring their life-saving products to market, these entrepreneurs must endure the ignorant vitriol of anti-capitalist demagogues in Washington who attack them as good-for-nothing greedy profiteers. At the height of the health care reform debacle in 1993, Hillary Clinton mauled pharmaceutical companies for "price gouging, cost shifting and unconscionable profiteering." Her husband assaulted the vaccine industry for "making a profit at the expense of our children" and assailed "shocking" drug prices. As head of the first lady's health care reform task force, then-Vice President Al Gore pestered panelists about government drug price controls and later demonized drug makers during his failed presidential bid. Mercifully, the regulatory health care beast spawned by the Clintons -- the one that would have created scores of new federal mandates, taxes, a federal drug pricing committee and countless other government controls -- is dead. Nevertheless, the claims of "unconscionable" drug profiteering go on. Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., whose office on Capitol Hill received a piece of mail that tested positive for anthrax this week, now knows first-hand the importance of pharmaceutical innovation. The New York Times reports that 50 people, mostly aides to the Senate majority leader, are on Cipro while they await testing for exposure to the anthrax bacteria. As they down the little pills that no federal bureaucrat could ever produce, perhaps these drug industry-bashing Democrats will now count their blessings. They have quick access to the best health care in the world. They live in the country with the highest level of pharmaceutical innovation. And, thank goodness, their bosses have failed to tear down the American free-market system that rewards capitalist pioneers with profits -- and benefits us all. The dominance of American drugmakers is undeniable. Ten years ago, half of the 10 top-selling drugs in the world were made by European companies. After European governments imposed a decade of Clintonesque "reforms," their countries' drugmakers now make only four of the top 25. (Bayer's Cipro is 22nd on the list.) Many European drugmakers have shifted their research and development to their U.S.-based operations to escape the regulatory crackdown. It also bears noting that 18 of the top 25 drugs were approved in the 1990s. Had the Clintons, Gore, Daschle and company gotten their way, the world might never have seen the introduction of life-improving products such as Lipitor, Celebrex, Zyprexa and Vioxx. The most unrepentant advocates of government-run health care might point out that Cipro was manufactured by Bayer in the Clintons' universal health care nirvana, Germany. But we live in a global economy. When Bayer and other foreign pharmaceutical companies decide whether to proceed with a promising pharmaceutical product, they consider the profits they can make both in their domestic market and in other countries. Clamping down on prices in the U.S. will deter research and development not just by American drug companies, but by foreign drug companies, too. Government price controls on pharmaceuticals are a hazard to our public well-being -- and to our national security. The superiority of the free market has always been a bitter pill for liberals. But now that their own health is at stake, the truth may be far easier to swallow.