I've heard many times the claim that drug companies purposely make treatments and avoid selling/researching cures instead. Are there any documented cases of this behavior happening or any concrete reason to believe this is the case?


3 Answers 3


I apologize if this sounds a little rude, but the question does not really make much sense.

There is no possibility to "avoid cures", for many reasons. One being that the drug development pipeline takes too long and is too inefficient to let it go when finally a good product is obtained (see graph).

Most of the research funding comes from Government agencies, not pharmaceutical companies. The basic research to find the mechanisms of disease and thus allowing the developing of new drugs are done in Universities/Research Institutes. Big pharma companies may run (usually in cooperation with universities) large-scale chemical compounds testing and fund some pre-clinical studies and the clinical trials (again, usually in collaboration with universities/hospitals).

It is plausible that a company may delay the release of a new drug to maximize the revenue of an older generation drug, but it is impossible for them to block the research in other places. So, if they have a magic cure, they will try to sell it as fast as they can. If not, the drug may be found by some other company or even may be published by an academic institution, preventing the use of any patent.

Budget data:

US Pharma Industry R&D spending anual budget:

  • Estimated by the companies: ~38 B
  • Estimated by the NSF (National Science Foundation): ~15 B.

The difference stems mostly on research performed outside the US and post-market follow up of drugs. Source: Congressional Budget Office 2006.

Of this budget, Canadian data suggest that approximately 15-20% is spent on basic research (i.e., drug discovery), 50-60% in preclinical and clinical trials and 20% in bioavailability and post-market (phase IV) studies. Source: Canadian Patented Medicine Prices Review Board Annual Report 2009. US-based pharma companies may spend close to 80% in clinical research. Source: Applied Clinical Trials.

Most importantly, many of the drugs that have appeared in the market derive from Government-funded research. In the last two decades, universities and research institutes have been patenting its own research and have reached licensig agreements with the pharma industry. There is a very good article about this issue: Stevens et al, N Engl J Med 2011; 364:535-541

US Government annual budget:*

.* It does not include State budgets, Senator's discretional budgets or smaller program budgets scattered in diverse departments.
.** Only a portion is dedicated to research.
.* From that, a portion is dedicated to bionanotechnology. The rest may not be relevant.

  • 2
    @mmr That's pharma industries spending. It does not only includes the actual reagents for research. Furthermore, much of that money is invested, as I said above, in the clinical trials. For example, plese refer to the Canadian Patented Medicine Prices Review Board Annual Report 2009: pmprb-cepmb.gc.ca/english/view.asp?x=1340&mid=1196
    – Aleadam
    Commented May 13, 2011 at 22:55
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    DOD even has a breast cancer research program: cdmrp.army.mil/bcrp/default.shtml
    – Aleadam
    Commented May 13, 2011 at 22:59
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    @mmr I gave you the Canadian link because it is what I found right now. Please, take it as an example of pharma spending. I do not think there is any number to show how much is spent in drug development, just because the grants may include different aims and it will be impossible to sum partial uses. Besides that, target validation is also part of drug R&D
    – Aleadam
    Commented May 13, 2011 at 23:17
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    We expect answers to provide references for all significant claims they make. Please add appropriate references to your answer.
    – Mad Scientist
    Commented May 14, 2011 at 0:33
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    @Fabian I am learning the methodology as I go. I'm new here and I'm mostly used to stackoverflow, where you're answer is right or wrong depending if your code works or not. No need for citations there. Most of what I know is from talking to higher NIH officials and pharma executives in different meetings. Thus, I do not have all the sources at hand (is mostly "personal communication"). I understand the need for the sources here, so I tried to gather some information together to substantiate my answer. I hope this is now up to skeptics.SE standards.
    – Aleadam
    Commented May 14, 2011 at 3:46

According to this report from the CNBC, Goldman Sachs analysts asked whether "one shot cures" were a sustainable business model.

The report reads:

The potential to deliver 'one shot cures' is one of the most attractive [...] While this proposition carries tremendous value for patients and society, it could represent a challenge [...] for sustained cash flow.

According to CNBC, they didn't recommend avoiding making cures, but recommended addressing larger markets, common diseases and constant innovations and portfolio expansion.

  • 4
    Side effects have nothing to do with the question at hand, I have no idea why you are equating meaningful desired treatment effects with undesired side effects. Drug companies don't generate significant income by selling products that treat the side effects of their other products. Some of these links don't even support your position, one states that "The reality is that it’s very hard to cure diseases. The people who discover cures make a ton of money doing it. The second best thing to curing disease is to manage symptoms and prolong life." Commented Oct 4, 2023 at 18:16
  • Thanks for your comment Nuclear Hoagie :) In his report, the Goldman Sachs analysts, Salveen Richter's central point is comparing pharma's profit from cure versus treatment. I clarified my original comment about this. Treatment, includes, but is not limited to, focusing the efforts on temporarily resolving side effects from drugs. About GBa second question. I believe that his report is a very good insider documented case of pharma prioritizing treatment over cure.
    – Francewhoa
    Commented Oct 4, 2023 at 21:55
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    Salveen Richter isn't an insider. He's a stock analyst. His report mentions one company that found a treatment for Hepatitis C and it's declining revenue from that. He doesn't say that companies are putting profit over cures.
    – Legion600
    Commented Oct 5, 2023 at 2:27
  • @NuclearHoagie says "Side effects have nothing to do with the question at hand". I think that by "side effects", what is meant is "symptoms". For instance consider how much profit is made by selling treatments for coughs, sniffles, congestion, headaches, sore throats, fever, etc. and then consider losing all those sales and selling a pill that cures the common cold. Even worse, how about a single treatment that permanently prevents the disease? The financial hit to the industry would be staggering. Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 20:30
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    @RayButterworth But "a treatment that prevents disease" is called a vaccine, and they of course exist for many diseases. Admittedly they're not the most profitable products for pharma companies, but there is still plenty of financial incentive to develop them, vaccines alone are a multi-billion dollar industry. Commented Oct 8, 2023 at 12:17

According to pharmaceutical chemist, Shane Ellison, the answer is yes.

Why? He claims that this is because pharma makes more profit from TREATMENT than a CURE. So they PRIORITIZE TREATMENT OVER CURE.

Shane Ellison has a masters degree in organic chemistry and is a two-time recipient of the prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute Research Grant for his studies in biochemistry and physiology.

Watch his short 3 minutes video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwpHWix22UU


According to Shane:

• Cures are better for your health than treatments

• A cure is often a long-lasting resolution. In comparison, a treatment is often a short-lasting resolution.

• On the long term, cure are often lower cost for you. In comparison, on the long term, treatment are often higher cost for you.

• Treatment result in recurring profit for pharma. Which in turn result in much higher profit for them. In comparison, cure result in one time profit. Which in turn result in much lower profit for pharma.

• Ex-pharmaceutical chemist Shane Ellison warns of the dangers of psychiatric medications and exposes the inner workings of the psychiatric drug industry

Source & backup links:


___• Backup 1: https://libre.video/videos/watch/422c5008-ecb0-4f5d-9876-537f17e008a1

___• Backup 2: https://web.archive.org/web/20231004183929/https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwpHWix22UU

___• Backup 3: https://files.catbox.moe/kzxzs6.mp4

___• Backup 4: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOT5DSIUTOY

  • 5
    You shouldn't post multiple answers on the same question and instead should edit your other answer with the new information.
    – Joe W
    Commented Oct 4, 2023 at 23:32
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    So you're citing a guy who sells non-FDA approved supplements as medicine? A man who is literally selling a treatment and not a cure? I think you might want to find an actual source who can answer the question and not somebody doing the same thing he claims Big Pharma is doing.
    – Legion600
    Commented Oct 5, 2023 at 2:12
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    If you're going to make an argument from authority it helps to have some authority better than "has a masters degree" and "won a minor prize in college for being good at class". I have way more authority on this topic than than that, and it's all snake oil nonsense.
    – CJR
    Commented Oct 5, 2023 at 2:46

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