Why High Drug Pricing Is A Problem for Research Ethics

J Bioeth Inq. 2020 Mar;17(1):29-35. doi: 10.1007/s11673-019-09958-6. Epub 2019 Dec 19.


The high price of drugs is receiving due consideration from ethicists, policymakers, and legislators. However, much of this attention has focused on the difference between the cost of drug development and company profits and the possible laws and regulations that could limit a drug's price once it reaches market. By contrast, little attention has been paid to the ethical implications of high drug prices for the research subjects whose bodies were essential to the drug's development. Indeed, the future price of a drug is routinely ignored and treated as unknowable during the ethical evaluation of the clinical trials that support its development. In this paper, I will argue that ignoring the future price of a drug during the research process is in tension with all three of the major principles of research ethics: it fails to show respect for the research participants, undermines the quality of risk/benefit judgements made by ethical review committees, and makes it impossible to judge future patient access and assess justice.

Keywords: Beneficence; Consent; Drug pricing; Justice; Research ethics; Respect.

MeSH terms

  • Beneficence
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / ethics*
  • Commerce / ethics*
  • Drug Development / economics*
  • Ethics, Research*
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent*
  • Research Subjects*
  • Respect
  • Social Justice
  • United States