There aren't many bad things about medical innovation. First and foremost, it improves and saves lives. It also opens a big, bright window toward future advancements for patients (such as the progressive improvement in diabetes treatments over the last 90 years).
The downside -- and this is more of a people problem than an innovation problem -- is the increase in counterfeit drugs. Fake medicines produce high margins for the counterfeiters and potentially lethal outcomes for the users -- patients with real diseases who need real help.
Lilly Chairman and CEO John Lechleiter, in today's issue of Forbes.com, quoted an estimate from the American Enterprise Institute that more than 100,000 people die each year from using counterfeit drugs. That's more than twice the number of U.S. women who died of breast cancer in 2008, according to the most recent CDC figures.
The World Health Organization estimates that 10 percent of medicines globally are likely to be counterfeit -- and the number is even higher in some developing countries. And, John wrote, medicines accounted for about 25 percent of all counterfeit goods seized by officials in the European Union last year.
A true public-private partnership is needed to outsmart the bad guys. Lilly, for starters, is investing tens of millions of dollars to make our packaging and products less prone to counterfeiting. We're also partnering with companies such as Microsoft and American Express while encouraging the right kind of public policies (such as a continued ban on importing prescription medicines from other countries).
As John wrote: "Ensuring that patients can continue to benefit from innovative medicines will require innovative approaches to expose and outwit the counterfeiters -- and a broad, coordinated effort to ensure that patients can always trust in the safety and efficacy of the medicines they take. With so many lives at stake, there's not a moment to lose."