There may be some truth to the “tale as old as time” lyric made popular by the Disney version of “Beauty and the Beast.”
It turns out, the tales to which we tuck our children into bed are some of the oldest surviving yarns in history. A few years ago, anthropologists in the UK set out to track just how long our favorite fairy tales have been told. The study used computational and statistical methods — similar to those used by biologists to trace species lineages based on modern DNA sequences — to track the ancestry of fairy tales through the evolution of language.
The findings, published in scientific journals, concluded that a number of fairy tales still in circulation today are between 2,500 and 6,000 years old — which means that they likely predate formal writing systems.
What makes something stand this incredible test of time? Anthropologists involved in the study theorized that fairy tales endure because their narratives are intuitive — and clear stories are more likely to be told over and over again.
As you will read in this month’s cover story, the narrative of generic drugs contains all the essential elements of a good fairy tale. The moral, of course, is that everyone deserves access to safe, affordable prescription drugs. For the millions who rely on them, the ‘magic’ is most certainly the savings — the generics and biosimilars industry has saved U.S. patients an estimated $373 billion in 2021, and more than $2.6 trillion in the last decade.
And yes, generic drugmakers get to be the Cinderella of their own story, underdogs who power through the chores of adversities such as price erosion, increased competition and regulatory delays.
You can’t have a fairy tale without a villain. If you attended this year’s AAM Access! event, it’s clear who the industry has cast as the big bad wolf. Pharmacy benefit managers, hired to negotiate prices between drugmakers and pharmacies, have faced increased scrutiny for huffing and puffing up generic drug prices for their own gain. In his opening remarks, David Gaugh, AAM’s interim CEO, spoke of “pernicious PBM practices” and the “pervasive harm” PBMs have done to the generics market.
But sometimes, as fairy tales teach us, the wolf answers the door dressed in grandma’s clothing. Gaugh also pointed to the damage done to generics through the “unintended consequences on well-intended but misguided initiatives” in current legislative policies.
Times are so tough for generics, that many in the industry are concerned about the durability of health care’s beloved success story.
Industry insiders, including Christine Baeder, COO for Teva’s U.S. Generics and AAM board chair, are imploring generic drugmakers to continue telling their story — educating patients and policymakers alike on the value proposition of generics. When the industry takes its longevity for granted, Baeder says, it falls short in its duties as advocates for generic-friendly policies.
The ‘happy ending’ for generic drugs is actually not an ending at all, but instead a world where generics persist evermore — which means patients can live happily ever after.