Some readers have wondered why this blog from time to time runs posts on the US health care system. Aside from the fact that it’s a major public policy problem in America, it is also a prime example of bad incentives, information asymmetry, and corporate predatory behavior. It thus makes for an important object lesson.
Reader Francois T pointed to an example, a commentary on a paper presented by Donald Light at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, “Pharmaceuticals: A Two-Tiered Market for Producing ‘Lemons’ and Serious Harm.” It still appears to be embargoed, but Howard Brody provides an extensive summary on his blog.
Light uses George Akerlof “market for lemons” as a point of departure. For those not familiar with the famed Akerlof paper, a “market for lemons” can occur when consumers are unable to distinguish product quality. The used car market is the paradigm, since the dealer has a much better idea than the buyer of whether a particular car is any good. Unscrupulous operators can stick a lot of hapless chump customers with overpriced clunkers. However, as crooked vendors become more common, buyers wise up a tad and are not longer to pay as much for cars they cannot evaluate. So while the prices buyers are now willing to pay are probably still too high for rattletraps, they are too low for decent cars. People with good merchandise start to look for other channels. Akerlof posits that the market eventually falls apart.
Note that used cars dealers did not set out to create lemons; the cars were bad deals by being overpriced (presumably, if they had been presented, warts and all, they still would have found purchasers, presumably people who thought they could repair them and those who wanted them for parts and scrap). Light contends, by contrast, that major pharmaceutical companies create bad products:
[T]he pharmaceutical market for ‘lemons,’ differs from other markets for lemons in that companies develop and produce the lemons. Evidence in this paper indicates that the production of lemon-drugs with hidden dangers is widespread and results from the systematic exploitation of monopoly rights and the production of partial, biased information about the efficacy and safety of new drugs…Companies will design and run their clinical
Five days before a 2007 article in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that the diabetes drug Avandia was linked to a 43% increase in heart attacks compared with other medications or placebos, a group of scientists and executives from the drug’s maker, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), gathered in a conference room at the offices of the Food and Drug Administration in White Oak, Md. The GSK goal: to convince regulators that the evidence that the company’s $3 billion-a-year blockbuster drug caused heart problems was inconclusive. To do that, the GSK officials focused not on heart-attack data but on a broader, less well defined category of heart problems called myocardial ischemia. The most recent studies of Avandia, the GSK officials told the FDA, had "yielded information that is inconsistent with an increased risk of myocardial ischemic events," according to sealed court proceedings obtained by TIME.
What GSK didn’t tell the FDA was that on May 14, 2007, two days before the White Oak meeting, GSK’s Global Safety Board had noted that a new assessment of Avandia studies "strengthens the [cardiac-risk] signal observed in the [previous] analysis." Or that eight days earlier, the company’s head of research and development, Moncef Slaoui, had sent an e-mail to its chief medical officer saying Avandia patients showed an "increased risk of ischemic event ranging from 30% to 43%!" Or that the day before the meeting, the company had produced a preliminary draft report that showed patients on Avandia had a 46% greater likelihood of heart attack than those in a control group.
But the mixed-evidence argument GSK presented to the FDA worked. After months of deliberation, the agency decided to keep the drug on the market — a move worth billions of dollars to GSK but that also may have put millions of patients at risk.
Such examples of the drug industry’s outmaneuvering FDA regulators are disturbingly common, say both scientists and policymakers who follow drug approval and safety monitoring. More than 140 million Americans take at least one prescription drug in any given month, and they rely on the FDA to ensure those drugs are safe. That trust, the story of Avandia illustrates, is…
More twilight zone material: progress from the Pinto case stalled at the mercy of the "Too Big To Fail" doctrine. Undoubtedly backed by the misguided "rational human economic model." In the Pinto case, punitive damages were awarded to prevent future corporate decisions to measure cost/benefits by putting a price tag on tag on human life…. Ilene
Before the Ford experts left Washington to return to drafting tables in Dearborn they did one other thing. They managed to informally reach an agreement with the major public servants who would be making auto safety decisions. This agreement was that "cost-benefit" would be an acceptable mode of analysis by Detroit and its new regulators. And, as we shall see, cost-benefit analysis quickly became the basis of Ford’s argument against safer car design.
Cost-benefit analysis was used only occasionally in government until President Kennedy appointed Ford Motor Company president Robert McNamara to be Secretary of Defense. McNamara, originally an accountant, preached cost-benefit with all the force of a Biblical zealot. Stated in its simplest terms, cost-benefit analysis says that if the cost is greater than the benefit, the project is not worth it—no matter what the benefit. Examine the cost of every action, decision, contract part or change, the doctrine says, then carefully evaluate the benefits (in dollars) to be certain that they exceed the cost before you begin a program or—and this is the crucial part for our story—pass a regulation.
As a management tool in a business in which profits matter over everything else, cost-benefit analysis makes a certain amount of sense. Serious problems come, however, when public officials who ought to have more than corporate profits at heart apply cost-benefit analysis to every conceivable decision. The inevitable result is that they must place a dollar value on human life.
A rare disease, sometimes known as an orphan disease, is any disease that is not common. Typically, a rare disease has such a low prevalence in a population that a physician in a busy general practice would not expect to see more than one case a year. Most rare diseases are genetic--present throughout the person’s entire life, even if symptoms do not appear immediately. However, many rare diseases appear early in life, and about 30% of children with rare diseases die before reaching their fifth birthdays.
No single cutoff number has been agreed upon for which a disease is considered rare. A disease may be considered rare in one part of the world, or in a particular group of people, but still be common in another. In the United States of America, the Rare Disease Act of 2002 defines rare disease strictly according to prevalence, as any disease or condition that affects less than 200,000 persons in the United States, or about 1 in 1,500 people.
BioMarin’s(BMRN) core business and research is in enzyme replacement therapies for orphan diseases. They are the first company to provide therapeutics for mucopolysaccharidosis type I (MPS I), by manufacturing Aldurazyme (commercialized by Genzyme Corporation). BioMarin is also the first company to provide therapeutics for Phenylketonuria (PKU)
As of 2005, BioMarin commercialized arylsulfatase B (Naglazyme) as an enzyme replacement therapy for the treatment of mucopolysaccharidosis VI (MPS VI), and in 2007 a drug version of tetrahydrobiopterin (Kuvan), the first medication-based intervention to treat phenylketonuria.
On 11/30/09, BioMarin announced that the FDA has granted orphan drug designation for 3,4-diaminopyridine (3,4-DAP), amifampridine phosphate, for the rare autoimmune disease Lambert Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome (LEMS). 3,4-DAP has previously received orphan drug designation in the E.U. Also, in October 2009, the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use of the European Medicines Evaluations Agency adopted a positive opinion recommending approval of amifampridine phosphate for LEMS. If approved by the European Commission, amifampridine phosphate will be the first approved treatment for LEMS, thereby conferring orphan drug protection and providing ten years of market exclusivity in Europe. BMRN expects to meet with the FDA in early 2010 to determine the necessary regulatory path for…
The warning signs have been everywhere since the beginning, growing ever clearer with each new valuation round, IPO launch, and earnings cycle emanating from Silicon Valley.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of the post Dot-Com ruins people were told not only was it “different this time,” they were also instructed to observe even the phoenix bird itself had morphed into what is now commonly referred to as a “Unicorn.” And any comparisons to the prior meltdown in the land of Dot-Com were met with howls and scowls of, “You just don&rs...
A quick post before the Superbowl begins. Friday's action was very disappointing if you were in the bullish camp; poor jobs data contributing to the malaise. However, investors can view this as another buying opportunity, with the Nasdaq clocking the 10% percentile of historic weak prices dating back to 1971, and the Russell 2000 making fast work of a push back to 958. Again, it's not about investing everything at once, but perhaps using the coming year(?) to build long term positions. I would be happier to see a 40-60% trim from highs - keep an eye on my bottom watch table, but this is the kind of action which helps reset the bulls count.
The S&P registered a clear break of rising trend. Volume was lighter, so it wasn't necessarily a panic sell. And while it could be viewed as a breakown, the glass half full crew would see this as a drop back...
Last week, I discussed the boost the market received as the BOJ made an unexpected move into negative interest rate territory combined with end of the month buying by portfolio managers. I wrote:
“However, the announcement by the Bank of Japan (BOJ) to implement negative interest rates in a desperate last attempt to boost economic growth in Japan was only the catalyst that ignited the bulls. The “fuel” for the buying came from the end of the month portfolio buying by fund managers.”
But more importantly, was the push higher by stocks that I have been discussing with you over the last couple of weeks. ...
Throughout the past 30 days of wild volatility, here’s what I didn’t do.
Panic. Worry. Sell.
In fact, the best I did was add to a couple of positions yesterday. The world was already in an uncertain state for the past 3+ years. It’s just that with the market rising, we pushed the issue to the back of our mind and ignored it.
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A number of systemic, structural forces are intersecting in 2016. One is the rise of non-state, non-central-bank-issued crypto-currencies.
We all know money is created and distributed by governments and central banks. The reason is simple: control the money and you control everything.
The invention of the blockchain and crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin have opened the door to non-state, non-central-bank currencies--money that is global and independent of any state or central bank, or indeed, any bank, as crypto-currencies are structurally peer-to-peer, meaning they don't require a bank to function: people can exchange crypto-currencies to pay for goods and services without a bank acting as a clearinghouse for all these transactions.
Last year, the S&P 500 large caps closed 2015 essentially flat on a total return basis, while the NASDAQ 100 showed a little better performance at +8.3% and the Russell 2000 small caps fell -5.9%. Overall, stocks disappointed even in the face of modest expectations, especially the small caps as market leadership was mostly limited to a handful of large and mega-cap darlings.
Notably, the full year chart for the S&P 500 looks very much like 2011. It got off to a good start, drifted sideways for...
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Baxter Int. (BAX) is splitting off its BioSciences division into a new company called Baxalta. Shares of Baxalta will be given as a tax-free dividend, in the ratio of one to one, to BAX holders on record on June 17, 2015. That means, if you want to receive the Baxalta dividend, you need to buy the stock this week (on or before June 12).
Back in December, I wrote a post on my blog where I compared the performances of various ETFs related to the oil industry. I was looking for the best possible proxy to match the moves of oil prices if you didn't want to play with futures. At the time, I concluded that for medium term trades, USO and the leveraged ETFs UCO and SCO were the most promising. Longer term, broader ETFs like OIH and XLE might make better investment if oil prices do recover to more profitable prices since ETF linked to futures like USO, UCO and SCO do suffer from decay. It also seemed that DIG and DUG could be promising if OIH could recover as it should with the price of oil, but that they don't make a good proxy for the price of oil itself.
This is a non-trading topic, but I wanted to post it during trading hours so as many eyes can see it as possible. Feel free to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Last fall there was some discussion on the PSW board regarding setting up a YouCaring donation page for a PSW member, Shadowfax. Since then, we have been looking into ways to help get him additional medical services and to pay down his medical debts. After following those leads, we are ready to move ahead with the YouCaring site. (Link is posted below.) Any help you can give will be greatly appreciated; not only to help aid in his medical bill debt, but to also show what a great community this group is.
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