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Why Are Drugs More Profitable Than Vaccines?


  • Michael Kremer
  • Christopher M. Snyder


In a simple representative consumer model, vaccines and drug treatments yield the same revenue for a pharmaceutical manufacturer, implying that the firm would have the same incentive to develop either ceteris paribus. We provide more realistic models in which the revenue equivalence breaks down for two reasons. First, drug treatments are sold after the firm has learned who has contracted the disease; in the case of heterogeneous consumers who vary with respect to the probability of contracting the disease, there is less asymmetric information to prevent the firm from extracting consumer surplus with drug treatments than with vaccines. We prove that, due to this aspect of pharmaceutical pricing, the ratio of drug-treatment to vaccine revenue can be arbitrarily high; we calculate that the ratio is about two to one for empirical distributions of HIV risk. The second reason for the breakdown of revenue equivalence is that vaccines are more likely to interfere with the spread of the disease than are drug treatments, thus reducing demand for the product. By embedding an economic model within a standard dynamic epidemiological model, we show that the steady-state flow of revenue is greater for drug treatments than for vaccines.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael Kremer & Christopher M. Snyder, 2003. "Why Are Drugs More Profitable Than Vaccines?," NBER Working Papers 9833, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9833
    Note: HC IO

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Michael Kremer, 2001. "Creating Markets for New Vaccines - Part I: Rationale," NBER Chapters,in: Innovation Policy and the Economy, Volume 1, pages 35-72 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Varian, Hal R., 1989. "Price discrimination," Handbook of Industrial Organization,in: R. Schmalensee & R. Willig (ed.), Handbook of Industrial Organization, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 10, pages 597-654 Elsevier.
    3. Malueg, David A, 1993. "Bounding the Welfare Effects of Third-Degree Price Discrimination," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(4), pages 1011-1021, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Rikard Forslid & Mathias Herzing, 2015. "On the Optimal Production Capacity for Influenza Vaccine," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 24(6), pages 726-741, June.
    2. Hausken, Kjell & Ncube, Mthuli, 2015. "Policy-Makers, the International Community and People Living with HIV: The Need for New Commitment Mechanisms," UiS Working Papers in Economics and Finance 2015/6, University of Stavanger.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • O31 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Innovation and Invention: Processes and Incentives
    • L11 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Production, Pricing, and Market Structure; Size Distribution of Firms

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