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In Honor of World AIDS Day, We Took a Step Into Pharmaceutical Sales’ Past

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World AIDS Day — December 1st — is fundamental in building awareness for AIDS and HIV all year long. The destructive pandemic has claimed the lives of more than 35 million people worldwide. That number only accounts for those documented records since first being identified in 1984.

Today, there are an estimated 36.7 million people across the globe who are living with the HIV virus, according to Because of this, numerous pharmaceutical researchers have dedicated years to working on new advancements and treatments for HIV patients. Now, along with developments, they’re creating new ways to stop the rapid spread of the pandemic, all while improving the quality of life of those afflicted.

Let’s look back at the history of pharmaceutical sales and take a moment to acknowledge HIV treatment advancements:

A collision of two revolutions

Early pharmaceuticals had nothing to do with large corporations, marketing, or mass production. It all started with apothecaries offering traditional remedies and experimenting with variations of treatments passed down for generations.

However, the pharmaceutical industry we know today didn’t begin until the second half of the 19th century. Two groundbreaking revolutions — the scientific and industrial — collided, creating a sales world dedicated to benefiting the health of people everywhere.

American pharmaceutical companies

Those little mom-and-pop apothecaries expanded into wholesale production drug companies. By 1849, the USA was introduced to its first pharmaceutical sales company, Pfizer. Even though their first product was an antiparasitic used to treat intestinal worms, Pfizer’s most notable success didn’t come until 1862 during the American Civil War.

During this time, the demand for painkillers, preservatives, and disinfectants soared. Pfizer began distributing vita drugs to meet the needs of Union Army soldiers, such as iodine, morphine, chloroform, camphor, and mercurials.

During the war, more medicinal breakthroughs occurred that forever changed the course of pharmaceutical sales. Thanks to the collaboration between both chemical and academic researchers, lifesaving medicines like insulin and penicillin were developed and later sophisticated to further improve the lives of those with diabetes and infections.

The great ethical conundrum

Fast-forward to the 1950s — the U.S. economy was noted as the world’s most booming economy, which further propelled the success of pharmaceutical sales. Along with the fruitful economy, government funding helped the industry continue its wildly successful growth. In fact, by 1956, the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) funding rose to nearly $100 million to invest in the future development of drugs, according to the NIH almanac.

With a growing portfolio of products, the pharmaceutical sales industry became a profit-making machine. This, of course, brought up the ethical question of profiting from healthcare products that have become a lifesaving necessity for countless patients.

George Merck, president of Merck from 1925 to 1950, addressed this issue in a historic 1950 speech, saying that, “We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear. The better we remember it, the larger they have been.”

As pharmaceutical companies continue researching and developing products that change the quality of life of billions of people, we see George Merck’s speech come to life. This is especially true as the American public was introduced to its first-ever case of AIDs in 1968, changing how many saw the importance of pharmaceutical development for years to come.

Pharmaceuticals vs HIV and AIDS

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), thought to originate from chimpanzee blood in the 1930s, remains one of the largest pandemics in the world. When not treated quickly and effectively, it can lead to the life-threatening disease of AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

In the U.S., the first confirmed case was in a mid-western 16-year-old, Robert Rayford, in 1968, according to Healthline. Even though the first case in North America came in the sixties, an epidemic continued to follow in the 1980s. As the numbers of diagnosed cases grew, The Center for Disease Control (CDC) expanded their research, desperately searching for more answers about the virus.

Unfortunately, by 1995, complications for AIDS became the leading cause of death for adults between 25 and 44 years of age. Death tolls climbed to approximately 50,000 Americans. Then, the first multi-drug treatment was introduced. Combivir was approved by the FDA in 1997, allowing those infected with HIV to take two drugs in a single medication.

The introduction of Combivir took deaths caused by HIV and AIDS from 38,780 in 1996 to 14,499 in 2000, according to the previously mentioned Healthline article. Researchers didn’t stop there, though. By 2010, they had up to 20 treatment variations and lower-cost generic drugs, increasing the availability of the drugs to low-income patients.

Millions of people around the world continue to battle HIV and AIDS. But with the constant introduction of new technologies, the pharmaceutical sales industry continues making new antiretroviral therapy (ART) breakthroughs to improve the lives of those suffering from HIV and AIDS and decrease the number of new cases.

What new pharmaceutical sales advancements inspire you the most? Share them with us!