29 JANUARY 1965, Page 15

Price of a Drug

SIR.—ln your January 1 issue, Murray Kempton displays much of the tendency towards demagoguery that characterised the late Senator Kefauver, and little of the objectivity that one expects from the Spectator. Reviewing John Connor's appointment as US Secretary of Commerce, he states: 'Secretary- designate Connor's Merck Company . . used to package and produce 1,000 tablets of Prednisonc for $13.61 and sell it to druggists for $170.' These figures, and others like them, were 'used, and totally dis- credited, during the Kefauver inquiry three years ago into the American drug industry. The figure of $13.61 represents an estimate of the costs of basic materials, and allows nothing for research, distribution and overheads. This obscurantism would lead us to estimate the 'manufacturing cost' of a motor-car in terms only of the value of the metals and fabrics used in its construction. The resulting mark-up would certainly be quite beyond the imagination of the producers of Aston-Martin or Rolls-Royce.

'Prednisonc,' as Mr. Kcmpton says, 'is especially useful for easing the pain of aged arthritics.' Well, Prednisonc, and other drugs like it, do not grow on trees: they are the fruits of years of laborious and expensive research and testing. Last year Merck and Co. alone spent approximately $30 million in research. Ask any patient if he grudges this sum's being reflected in the price of future new, improved drugs. Indeed, ask Mr. Kcmpton, if he should ever be unfortunate enough to suffer from arthritis.

HARVEY A. MITCHELL Manager, Public Relations Merck Sharp & Dohme Europe, Brussels