In a recent report for its biotech clients, investment bank Goldman Sachs frowned on a new type of genome therapy that could permanently cure disease.
As CNBC originally reported, Goldman Sachs published a report on April 10 called “The Genome Revolution,” which evaluated the question, “Is curing patients a sustainable business model?” Analyst Salveen Richter explained that new forms of long-term cures involving gene therapy may be good for humanity, but bad for capitalism.
“The potential to deliver “one shot cures” is one of the most attractive aspects of gene therapy, genetically engineered cell therapy, and gene editing. However, such treatments offer a very different outlook with regard to recurring revenue versus chronic therapies,” Richter wrote. “While this proposition carries tremendous value for patients and society, it could represent a challenge for genome medicine developers looking for sustained cash flow.”
In the report, Goldman Sachs pointed to pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences, which makes Harvoni — a hepatitis C treatment. Harvoni has been proven to be especially effective in curing hepatitis C, particularly with patients who have cirrhosis, curing 92 to 100 percent of patients according to MedPage Today. Gilead’s sales peaked at around $12.5 billion in 2015, but due to patients being cured and no longer needing the treatment, sales are expected to be just under $4 billion in 2018.
“[Gilead] is a case in point, where the success of its hepatitis C franchise has gradually exhausted the available pool of treatable patients,” the report read. “In the case of infectious diseases such as hepatitis C, curing existing patients also decreases the number of carriers able to transmit the virus to new patients, thus the incident pool also declines … Where an incident pool remains stable (eg, in cancer) the potential for a cure poses less risk to the sustainability of a franchise.”
The Goldman Sachs report’s conclusions about the declining profitability of curing patients’ illnesses flies in the face of conventional capitalist thought. The Koch-funded Heritage Institute, for example, published a report in 2006 describing how capitalism can save healthcare through innovation and competition. However, the United States is an outlier in how the rest of the developed world approaches healthcare. The United Nations’ 2016 Human Development Index finds that out of more than 30 highly industrialized nations, all nations other than the U.S. have a universal healthcare system that “cover[s] substantially all of their population.”
Moreover, despite all of the innovation and competition in the United States’ for-profit healthcare model, the U.S. is not seen as a world leader in life expectancy. In November of 2016, the London-based Legatum Institute released its 10th annual global Prosperity Index, which ranks countries based on 104 different variables split into nine different sub-categories. One of those sub-categories is healthcare — more specifically, mental and physical health, healthcare infrastructure, and the availability of preventative care. The United States ranks #17, with the 16 countries ahead of the U.S. all having universal healthcare systems.
The Goldman Sachs report should serve as a cautionary reminder to Americans that capitalism does not have humanity’s best interests at heart, and capitalists will shy away from curing millions of people if it means they’ll make less money.
Logan Espinoza is a freelance contributor specializing in economic issues. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona with his wife and daughter. Contact him at logan DOT espinoza AT yahoo DOT com.