Panel 36

Diagnosis, prognosis, treatment - Towards fair and sustainable care provisions in health systems and pharmaceutical innovation

Organizers: Hadewych Honné (1,2); Conor Douglas (3)

1: University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom; 2: KU Leuven, Belgium; 3: York University, Canada

Topics: Health policies, governance and practices in a postpandemic era; Innovation imaginaries, practices and policies; Ethics, innovation and responsibility in technoscience; The value of science, technology, innovation and research practices; Heterogeneous assemblages in biomedical research

Keywords: Access to treatments, pharmaceutical innovation, commodification of health, healthcare sustainability

For years STS scholars have been critically engaging with medical hope and hype associated with advances in genetics and genomics (Hedgecoe & Martin 2008; Martin, Hopkins, Nightingale, & Kraft 2009). Associated promises of transformations in the pharmaceutical sector failed to deliver to the point in which the revolution in biotechnology was seen as a myth (Nightingale & Martin 2004; Hopkins, Martin, Nightingale, Kraft & Mahdi 2007). However, we are now witnessing real reorganization within the pharmaceutical industry from mass chemical production for the treatment of common illnesses towards research and development into ever more expansive screening, testing, and therapies for complex conditions with advanced cell and gene therapies (Dolgin 2010). Accompanying such advancements in medical care, however, is a number of challenges pertaining to the commodification of healthcare and treatment. It has become evident that market logics, geared towards returns on investment and profit maximisation in monetary terms, are insufficient for meeting unmet medical needs – particularly in rare diseases (Douglas, Aith, Boon et al. 2022). In order to start unpacking the multiplicity of interests at play in therapeutic development and healthcare, we need to appreciate first the co-production of social, scientific, and technological factors that shape this landscape. Policies, laws, institutional arrangements, and economic and ethical assessments shape the development and marketisation of advanced therapies while, vice versa, the latter simultaneously shape the former. In the panel, we want to promote reflections on what STS can contribute towards devising more fair and sustainable healthcare systems and pharmaceutical innovation processes. How can we formulate ‘diagnoses’ of the problems at stake in healthcare systems and pharmaceutical innovation today, what ‘treatment plans’ can we formulate for these issues, and what are our ‘prognoses’ for the future?


Dolgin, E. (2010). Big pharma moves from'blockbusters' to'niche busters'. Nature Medicine, 16(8), 837.

Douglas, C. M., Aith, F., Boon, W., de Neiva Borba, M., Doganova, L., Grunebaum, S., ... & Kleinhout-Vliek, T. (2022). Social pharmaceutical innovation and alternative forms of research, development and deployment for drugs for rare diseases. Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases, 17(1), 1-13.

Hedgecoe, A. M., & Martin, P. A. (2008). 32 Genomics, STS, and the Making of Sociotechnical Futures. The handbook of science and technology studies, 817.

Hopkins, M. M., Martin, P. A., Nightingale, P., Kraft, A., & Mahdi, S. (2007). The myth of the biotech revolution: An assessment of technological, clinical and organisational change. Research policy, 36(4), 566-589.

Martin, P., Hopkins, M., Nightingale, P., & Kraft, A. (2009). On a critical path: genomics, the crisis of pharmaceutical productivity and the search for sustainability. In The Handbook of Genetics & Society (pp. 171-188). Routledge.

Nightingale, P., & Martin, P. (2004). The myth of the biotech revolution. TRENDS in Biotechnology, 22(11), 564-569.