Today, the capitalist class is nothing more than a parasite. It has nothing to offer those suffering from disease and illness but elaborate marketing scams and patent speculation.
When Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto, the capitalist class still had a progressive role to play in history, at least as far as improving the productive forces of society was concerned. However, even as they noted this, they pointed out the vulgar aspects of capitalism. Due to the need for a "constantly expanding market," the capitalists revolutionized the means of production, ridding the world of old prejudices in the process, creating conditions in which “all that is holy is profaned.”
In this context, Turing Pharma’s recent purchase of Daraprim, a drug used to treat a common condition known as toxoplasmosis, and in conjunction with other drugs, AIDS, has moved from the mere vulgar and profane to the vile and criminal. The price of the drug has been raised overnight from $13.50 to $750 a pill. The cost of treatment for patients has risen from about $1,130 to $63,000. Over the course of years of treatment, the cost could now be over $600,000 for many patients. This increase of over 5000% is sickening even by capitalist standards. After all, this drug was formulated in 1953.
Martin Shkreli, the hipster-CEO of Turing Pharma insists that he is merely looking after shareholder interests and that ultimately, this price increase is good for patients! This despite being roundly condemned by even the bourgeois media. This is one of those moments when capitalism stands so naked that even the most loyal of the emperor's servants protest that he has no clothes!
Gradual price rises of 20%, 100%, or 200% are entirely acceptable in the view of the bourgeois and their sycophants, something that happens regularly in the pharmaceutical industry. But this blatant gouging risks exposing the entire market economy for the cold, heartless cesspool of profit it truly is.
Under the pressure of mass outrage, it seems Turing Pharma may be toning down its initial 5000% price hike, but the way the system operates remains the same. Because there is an internal logic—if the functioning of capitalism can be called that—to what Shkreli is doing. In part this is a continuation of the capitalist crisis that exploded in 2008. There are very few avenues left, in general, for investments that yield stable returns. Speculation, in the manner of betting on horses, has overtaken actual productive endeavors by the capitalist class.
However, beyond the general decay of capitalism, there is something more specific to the pharmaceutical industry in this story which reveals the whole industry to be a rigged shell game that has been played for years. It started with the creation of synthesized human insulin in 1978. This innovation, prior to which diabetics were administered pig insulin, sent shockwaves across the pharmaceutical industry. The shock wasn’t related to the use as a treatment for diabetes, but rather, that it was produced by a corporation—connected to the academy and hence public funding—and then “in-licensed,” or purchased, by Big Pharma.
This changed the game for pharmaceutical companies and they abandoned any pretense to basic in-house scientific research. Today, large and medium sized drug companies do not innovate. That work is done by biotech companies, often spun out of university “incubators" which create new drugs with the specific aim of being acquired by or partnering with a major pharmaceutical company. Pfizer, Merck, GSK and even medium-sized companies like Turing are in the game of commercializing and marketing drugs for profit, full stop.
For some years this dynamic seemed to serve the pharmaceutical industry and the capitalists quite well. It may even have had some positive effects on people's health here and there, but this was only as an afterthought to the pursuit of profits, and came at the expense of pillaging the working class—in 2013, 60% of bankruptcies in the United States were due to unpayable medical bills.
But like all other capitalists, the Pharma bosses are in trouble. There is a “patent cliff” approaching over the next decade or so. As patents on major blockbuster drugs are set to expire, these companies stand to lose billions in revenue to generic drugs. The focus on the entire industry has now shifted to “specialty and orphan indications.” In other words, towards rare diseases which do not have major marketed drugs.
It is in this context that Turing purchased Daraprim for $55 million from Impax Laboratories in August. It treats a "specialty indication," and the drug presents challenges for generic companies, because there is only a “small market” of potentially millions of people who depend on it to stay alive. It is a small market containing that Turing intends to hold hostage! While CEO Martin Shkreli insists the money will go towards innovations, even a cursory glance at the product pipeline for Turing shows that they have only ever innovated in minor ways. For instance, taking existing drugs traditionally administered orally and formulating routes of administration as sprays. This is a money grab, nothing more, nothing less.
Capitalism ran its course as a progressive force long ago. Today, the capitalist class is nothing more than a parasite. It has nothing to offer those suffering from disease and illness but elaborate marketing scams and patent speculation. The entire focus is on maximizing the return on investment. It is an open secret in the Pharma industry that most spending is focused on the maintenance of chronic illness, not on developing cures for chronic or acute ailments.
This stands in stark contrast with the kind of work done for decades in Cuba. That small, isolated, island nation is leading the way in research towards cures. It has already proven it is possible to stop the transmission of HIV from mother to child and is boldly working on an HIV vaccine. Cuba is by no means a truly socialist society. “Socialism in one country” is a concept conclusively debunked by history. Socialism must be international or it is nothing, and must include direct democratic planning and control over the economy and the state by the working class. Nonetheless, the Cuban health care system is example of what can be done on the basis of a nationalized, planned economy. It is a harbinger of what humanity will be capable of when it focuses on cures instead of profits, of what genuine socialism will look like once it spreads across the entire world.
Under socialism the vast resources humanity has developed under capitalism could be harnessed towards providing real cures. Under socialism, the for-profit Pharma companies will be dispensed with and replaced by a massive, publicly owned, and rationally planned pharmaceutical industry under democratic workers' control. The noble professions of medicine and scientific research will be freed from the twisted "logic" of capital, and will serve to meet the needs of the many, not the profits of the few.
But such a society will not arise on its own. It requires the hard work of building of a mass revolutionary Marxist international that intervenes actively in the struggles of the world working class. If you find yourself disgusted by capitalism and are sickened by the fact that Turing Pharma can get away with vampirism, you need to do something. Join the International Marxist Tendency and the struggle to build a world that isn’t driven by the lust of wealth for the few and misery for the rest of humankind.