Investing in Disease: How to Do It Properly

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investing in disease

Disease is bad, profiting from it is bad; yet investing in disease remains a moral grey area.

We live in a world of for-profit pharmaceutical research, where each new drug takes US$1 billion to develop and only 1 in 10 even makes its way to stores. It’s a terrible system, and an outrageously expensive process; but it wouldn’t be able to continue without investment.

Investing in these companies can seem unethical because you’re relying on both a disease outbreak and the extortion of billions of dollars in exchange for human life. However, in an increasingly overpopulated, overcrowded, over-polluted world, investing in pharmaceutical research isn’t just profitable, it’s the right thing to do.

In defence of disease research

Disease is inevitable. In the past ten years the world has seen 42 epidemics, and investing in disease research is the only way to cut that number. In fact, investing in disease research does more than just help speed cures to epidemics – your money can have positive effects that go far beyond those you invested in.

  • Accidental cures: drugs don’t always do what they’re supposed to, but that doesn’t make them failures. Antibiotics and Viagra were both found whilst researching unrelated diseases, and even now rumours abound regarding accidental cures for cancer.
  • Technological advances: creation of new drugs goes hand-in-hand with the creation of new drug delivery mechanisms or diagnostic tools. X-ray machines were as much an accidental project as the microwave, and very soon you could inhale your insulin.
  • Knowledge bases: every failed drug or botched bit of research counts for something, as the data gained from it is added to an ever-growing, ever-helpful knowledge base. Just look at how long and how well we’re living now compared to a hundred years ago – all thanks to investment in biomedical research.

Is disease research an ethical investment?

The short answer is; yes.

The long answer it that it’s certainly not unethical. Investment is only unethical when it does more harm than good – and disease research actually does much more good than harm. You’re not making the disease, only predicting its occurrence and – vitally – taking action against it.

You are not investing in “disease,” you’re investing in a response to it. If you were to hear of an Ebola outbreak near you and invest in fencing supplies, predicting the creation of a leper-like divide between ill and healthy, that would be an unethical investment in disease.

Is it right to make a financial gain from disease?

This is where investment in disease research becomes a grey area. When profits are on a communal or mass scale, it’s easy to say whether they’re good or bad – a pharmaceutical company making billions from the dead and dying is unethical, yes. You, however, are an individual, and it’s what you do with the returns on your investment that will make you a truly ethical investor.

Will you re-invest into more cures? Into clean water technology? Will you donate to UNICEF or WHO to help bring the cure you invested in to areas that need it most? If you don’t even consider answering these questions with a “yes,” then it may be difficult to call this an ethical investment.

At the very least, there’s one question you should ask yourself and the company before investing in disease research: how accessible is this drug or equipment going to be?

WHO has said that fighting Ebola cost them around US$490 million in 2014, because not only are the drugs and protective gear expensive, but the very testing kits they use to determine the presence of disease cost US$244 per person. Advocating for faster transport routes and a lower cost for NGOs should be a trait you look for in an ethical disease investment.

How to invest in disease

Using stock portfolios that screen out unethical companies, like those Expert Ethical has, is one way to ensure that the pharmaceutical research you invest in is as ethical as possible.

Another way is to choose companies with excellent ethical reputations, like Novartis and, apparently, most pharmaceutical companies based in Australia.

Remember that it’s not just contagious epidemics like Swine Flu and SARS that could use investment. Neurodegenerative diseases require much more research, but its pay off could range from curing tragic diseases like Alzheimer’s to helping creating the world’s first full brain map, which could revolutionise the diagnosis and treatment of every brain-related disease.

You can also invest in NGOs fighting disease on the ground, such as Doctors Without Borders and WHO. Investing in NGOs or local pharmaceutical outlets minimises the risk of corruption in your investment; many global corporations will cut corners when it comes to drug distribution in the developing world.

Be Jonas Salk

In the past few years, pharmaceutical corporations have dropped in trustworthiness and are now considered similar to real sin stocks like tobacco and alcohol. This is, in part, due to their glam, multinational conglomerate appearance; Big Pharma is just a little too much like Big Business. This isn’t an inaccurate portrayal, but investing in disease can mean you have the chance to invest in smaller, more ethical pharmaceutical corporations. Remember that the investors and stakeholders have the power, and you can use yours for good.

The story of Martin Shkreli is one that I’m sure you’ll have heard: hailed as “the most hated man in America,” he abused his power as head of a pharmaceutical company to hike the price of a drug commonly used by AIDS patients by 5000%. – to US$750 per pill.

For every Martin Shkreli, though, there’s a Jonas Salk, who refused to patent the polio vaccine so that everyone could get it for free. Thanks to him, Polio now only exists in three countries. Pharmaceutical researchers like him still exist, and they’ll use every bit of their research – even accidents like penicillin – wasting none of the precious money and resources you invest in them because at the end of the day, pharmaceutical research is a force for good.

So go ahead, ask us and find out if there’s a cure you want to invest in.

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