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Opinion
Max Nisen

Deadly Viruses Aren't Pharma's Top Priority. Why Not?

There are significant disincentives for big drugmakers to go big in medicines to fight infectious diseases. This needs to change.

Pharmaceutical companies could play a much bigger part in the fight against deadly infections.

Pharmaceutical companies could play a much bigger part in the fight against deadly infections.

Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

Drugmakers have made significant scientific advances in recent years. Unfortunately, their ability to combat potential pandemics isn't included.

Driven in part by high prices and an easier path to profit, pharmaceutical companies have increasingly focused on medicines targeting cancer and rare diseases, and they are often amply rewarded by investors for doing so. That's helped lead to important new drugs and a notable drop in American cancer deaths. But, as I have noted, those efforts can come at the expense of vital but less lucrative work in the service of public health.