Rickter Scale: In search of the lost cure

The Rickter Scale is a regular column

Rick Stiebel/Columnist

We will thankfully, mercifully, eventually emerge on the other side of the killing fields of COVID-19.

For the time being, however, this crisis of pandemic proportions caused by an invisible virus currently has the Grim Reaper working overtime in every part of the planet.

The question we must grapple with moving forward is whether to heed the advice and take to heart the lessons learned from those who saw it coming.

Doctor William Haseltine is one of the voices that raged before this particular tidal wave long before it crashed onto our shores.

The chair of ACCESS Health International had seen this before. When you have forged a career teaching at Harvard Medical School and founded two departments dedicated to research on cancer and HIV/AIDS, it’s a given that your opinion should carry considerable weight.

In a recent interview, Haseltine said when scientists worked on a SARS vaccine in 2003, all kinds of drugs were developed in China, Singapore and the United States that showed promising results in dealing with that particular viral scourge.

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Unfortunately, these breakthroughs in research were only uncovered after SARS had run its course, so there was no “economic model” for Big Pharma to continue down that path.

Although I’m not an expert in deciphering scientific jargon, I believe “no economic model” roughly translates into there was no evidence testing and production of those drugs would increase the companies’ profit line.

Haseltine said the same pharmaceutical companies are now “racing to recover those chemicals.”

He strongly suggests that if governments had stepped in and demanded the ingredients and recipes be kept in the drug companies’ cupboard, we might be in a much better place than we are today.

Johnson & Johnson racked up $82.6 billion in profits in 2019. Roche weighed in at $63.85 billion, Pfizer banked $51.75 and Bayer squeaked by with $48 billion. And that doesn’t include profits from biotechnical companies owned by or part of larger pharmaceutical groups. (These numbers are courtesy of Wikipedia.)

The Bird Flu, SARS, AIDS, and H1N1 were ticking time bombs we were able to defuse with some degree of success, and there’s a good chance we’ll find the magic bullet for COVID-19 thanks to the efforts of dedicated scientists funded in part by pharmaceutical giants.

We need to apply enough pressure to ensure pharmaceutical conglomerates pony up the resources required to keep us ahead of the next curve, bottom lines be damned.

Judging from the millions they throw at advertising cures to the common cold and that new wave of psoriasis remedies they’re presently peddling, it’s safe to say they can afford it.

Rick Stiebel is a semi-retired local journalist.

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