Recently, several interesting links floated past me in my Twitter stream, leading to some broader thoughts about the Pharma and Biotech industry.
First up was a link from someone (I have sadly forgotten who), which illustrated how the bulk of the US's healthcare costs is taken up by the portion of sick and often (but not always) elderly people needing expensive treatments. Think about it, cancer is mostly a disease of aging as are Alzheimers, Parkinsons and chronic heart disease. Hypertension and high cholesterol may start much earlier, but like diabetes, they are chronic long term conditions so the overall cost and burden to the healthcare system will be quite high over the lifetime of the patient.
Second was a brilliant snippet about the Constitution referring to "We the People" not "We the HMO's", amusing but also very true. Payers tend to go with insurance companies and banks in my book; so hard to get money out of any of them when you need it, but all love to clock up their fees when it suits them.
Thirdly, was a link to a NY Times Op Ed article shared by Dr Steven Tucker reminding me of the value of the fresh, home grown food I grew up eating from our little kitchen garden. The fruit and vegetables struggled in the stony dry soil high above the water table, but strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes and fresh herbs in the summer, runner beans in the autumn and potatoes and carrots in the winter and spring were all delicious and nutritious. Compare that to the large, mostly tasteless vegetables the supermarkets seem to offer these days. We didn't grow up drinking soda or fizzy drinks, a can of Coke was reserved for the once a year copper cleaning – you soak the pans overnight in the stuff and the next morning rinse out shining copper pans. The acid had neatly done it's work for you. I never forgot that – why would anyone in their right mind drink acid – if it cleaned pots so smartly, what on earth would it do to my guts? We never ate much chocolate or junk food either, every thing was home cooked, except for an occasional treat like fish and chips. Nor did we have a car; we walked, cycled or took public transport.
And then the penny dropped regarding the obvious.
How much of health, fitness and general well being is a personal responsibility, not the Governments, the hospitals, the HMO's or the drug companies or anybody else's for that matter? It's up to each and every one of us to be more responsible for ourselves. Disease is exactly that, dis-ease, the lack of healthy well being. In this day and age of high stress, junk food, car driving, smoking and a TV society, is it any wonder that people have long term health problems? In reality, drugs for hypertension and cholesterol, for example, are treating the chronic symptoms of the problem, not addressing the core issue which is lifestyle, exercise and diet.
Diabetes is often linked to overweight unless there is a family history of the disease, as happened on my father's side of the family, despite their general leaness. Carcinomas can take 30 years to grow and develop, as in the case of colorectal cancer. How much of that is linked to family history, genes or obesity? Lung cancer is strongly linked to smoking, but non-smokers can get it too, although this is rarer compared to the majority who do smoke. Thus reducing the overall risk of something happening is probably a sensible strategy.
How many thoroughbred horse trainers would feed their prize yearlings with junk food, beer and cigarettes, while still expecting them to perform at the highest level?
My family are all lean, as was I until I came to America and found the change in lifestyle caused weight gain for the first time in my life, which is now being firmly addressed with diet and exercise. I'm doing my bit to get healthier and restore the natural balance, for myself. The idea of taking lifelong pills to treat raised cholesterol or hypertension seems an anathema to me. Look at the person in the mirror every morning and tell them you owe it to them to do something about it, it's your body.
The payers and Government are, quite rightly, looking to keep their cost burden low, Pharma companies invent and manufacture therapies to treat symptoms, not cure disease. There is no magic bullet for curing a problem overnight that often took a lifetime to develop.
Health is ultimately an individual responsibility, not the healthcare system's.