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…
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 email@example.com 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.
With The Royals and The Giants flip-flopping scores like an HFT-trader on FOMC day, we thought a glance at the two teams' local real estate markets might give some context for who comes out the weekend the winner... As RealtyTrac notes, the San Francisco Giants may have one of the most Equity Rich real estate regions, but the Kansas City Royals hit a home run with home prices.
The S&P 500 oscillated a bit during its opening hour, hitting its -0.23% intraday low in the first 30 minutes of trading. The index then rose in a couple of waves to its 0.71% closing gain, fractionally off its 0.74% intraday high. This was a big week for the 500, surging 4.12% and nearly erasing its October loss, which now stands at -0.39%. It is now only 2.33% from its record close on September 18th.
The yield on the 10-year Note closed at 2.29%, unchanged from yesterday's close and up 7 bps from last Friday's close.
Here is a 15-minute chart of the week.
On the daily chart below we see that volume was relatively light -- the first daily gain with volume below its 50-day moving average since September 26th. Today's closing price is just a hair below its 50-day day moving average.
If you're following Valeant's proposed takeover (or merger) of Allergan and the lawsuit by Allergan against Valeant and notorious hedge fund manager William Ackman, for insider trading this is a must-read article.
Linette Lopez describes the roles played by key Wall Street hedge fund owners--Jim Chanos, John Paulson, and Mason Morfit, a major shareholder in Valeant. Linette goes through the con...
There is lots of action in Southwest Airlines Co. November expiry call options today ahead of the air carrier’s third-quarter earnings report prior to the opening bell on Thursday. Among the large block trades initiated throughout the trading session, there appears to be at least one options market participant establishing a call spread in far out of the money options. It looks like the trader purchased a 4,000-lot Nov 37/39 call spread at a net premium of $0.40 apiece. The trade makes money if shares in Southwest rally 9.0% over the current price of $34.32 to exceed the effective breakeven point at $37.40, with maximum potential profits of $1.60 per contract available in the event that shares jump more than 13% to $39.00 by expiration. In September, the stock tou...
Last week brought even more stock market weakness and volatility as the selloff became self-perpetuating, with nobody mid-day on Wednesday wanting to be the last guy left holding equities. Hedge funds and other weak holders exacerbated the situation. But the extreme volatility and panic selling finally led some bulls (along with many corporate insiders) to summon a little backbone and buy into weakness, and the market finished the week on a high note, with continued momentum likely into the first part of this week.
Despite concerns about global economic growth and a persistent lack of inflation, especially given all the global quantitative easing, fundamentals for U.S. stocks still look good, and I believe this overdue correction ultimately will shape up to be a great buying opportunity -- i.e., th...
Now that bitcoin has subsided from speculative bubble to functioning currency (see the price chart below), it’s safe for non-speculators to explore the whole “cryptocurrency” thing. So…is bitcoin or one of its growing list of competitors a useful addition to the average person’s array of bank accounts and credit cards — or is it a replacement for most of those things? And how does one make this transition?
With his usual excellent timing, London-based financial writer/actor/stand-up comic Dominic Frisby has just released Bitcoin: The Future of Money? in which he explains all this in terms most readers will have no tr...
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Well PSW Subscribers....I am still here, barely. From my last post a few months ago to now, nothing has changed much, but there are a few bargins out there that as investors, should be put on the watch list (again) and if so desired....buy a small amount.
First, the media is on a tear against biotechs/pharma, ripping companies for their drug prices. Gilead's HepC drug, Sovaldi, is priced at $84K for the 12-week treatment. Pundits were screaming bloody murder that it was a total rip off, but when one investigates the other drugs out there, and the consequences of not taking Sovaldi vs. another drug combinations, then things become clearer. For instance, Olysio (JNJ) is about $66,000 for a 12-week treatment, but is approved for fewer types of patients AND...
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