It isn't an exaggeration to claim that the development of new classes of drugs is saving and extending millions of lives, and in the process reshaping societies, and will do so more dramatically in the coming decades. Life-saving therapies and the companies that create them cannot, however, cure poverty, erase inequities between the North and the South, or substitute for trained doctors, modern hospitals and basic medical care.

Nevertheless, politicians at the White House, the United Nations, in the Capitol of Maine, and elsewhere last week expressed their convictions that pharmaceutical and biotech companies can be convinced or coerced into solving just those kinds of problems. The disappointment that will come with the realization that the companies can't solve these problems will enhance pressure for price controls.