Yves here. If anyone takes up this idea, please remember Naked Capitalism (as in at least send me some of the stuff)! Remember, the US bars reimportation, as in ordering US drugs via Canada. Importing foreign drugs doesn’t fall into that category (so personal use is fine, getting approval for commercial resale is probably not trivial unless you go the dietary supplement route and don’t make medical claims).
By Michael Olenick, a research fellow at INSEAD who writes regularly at Olen on Economics
Over the break Santa brought me an unwanted present, a cold that turned into a cough which wouldn’t go away. Fearing the worst, and annoying my co-workers back in the office, I was finally convinced to see my French doctor.
“Bronchitis,” he said.
“Don’t you need to run some tests,” I asked?
“Half my waiting room has the same,” he said, writing out a prescription. Thinking I should insist on more tests I thought of at least one other friend also coughing and decided my doctor may have a point.
He prescribed an inexpensive antibiotic and, more to the point, something called Helicidine for the cough.
My French is lousy so I try to find US equivalents to see what medicines I’m taking. There was nothing for Helicidine despite that it’s been prescribed for over 40 years in France and derives from a Roman cough remedy. Napoleon’s army apparently schlepped a variant to Russia way back when.
Shrugging my shoulders and tired of coughing down the hatch it went: how bad could it be? The answer… not bad at all and amazingly effective: I stopped coughing.
Amazon’s US site lists 629 results for “cough medicine” and those are the non-prescription medicines. Most contain various chemicals that leave you anywhere from a little sleepy to more stoned than a Burning Man attendee on burn night. Having tried a bunch we brought from the US, before going to the doctor, I found none made much difference.
What’s the miracle ingredient in Helicdine? I wish I wouldn’t have looked it up but it’s apparently the eminently unpatentable snail snot. In all fairness, it’s mixed into a regular cough syrup so one needn’t know it’s snail snot. Like most things the French eat, Helicidine tastes pretty good, not at all medicine like.
Insurance paid so I don’t know the price but I’m certain Helicidine is cheap; almost all meds are cheap in France and flavored snail snot is probably no exception. It’s also safe: two year-olds can take Helicidine and, with no narcotics, I’d imagine overdosing is a near impossibility.
Thinking I might be imagining the effects of my magical French snail snot I did a little research and came across a double-blind placebo-controlled peer-reviewed study. It’s not in my head: inexpensive, non-narcotic, kinda’ tasty if you don’t know what’s in it Helicidine is effective in people with COPD, meaning it works like a champ for those with a garden-variety cough.
If it’s decades-old and has already gone through a double-blind peer-reviewed study why isn’t it a star on US shelves? The US cough and cold market is projected to be $9.3 billion in 2019, with a 1.7% CAGR through 2023. Maybe effective, safe, and cheap snail snot probably lacks the IP protection to attract a US inventor?
There’s a small chance that nobody has thought of it and, if so – good morning, investors; today’s your lucky day to be reading nakedcapitalism – import and rebrand Helicidine and I suspect you’ll quickly make a lot of money. Helicidine’s maker, the tiny Theabel Lucien Pharmaceuticals (private company; 2015 revenue, €108.2M; 267 employees – there I’ve done the homework for you) probably can’t be bothered. Their website was created in 2015 which was also the last time it was updated; their marketing isn’t what we’d describe as aggressive. Or even awake. Then again, prescription pharma marketing is not legal in France so the idea of selling a drug might be completely alien to them.
They say when away from one’s home country it’s the small things that eventually stand out. I could and do think about the big picture politics but admit I miss grocery stores being open at night and on Sunday afternoon. And I miss inexpensive Chinese takeout. I used to miss measurements using the imperial system but once one gets used to metric there’s no going back (who knew a liter of water is one kilogram making it easy to convert volume to weight, though I digress).
But I don’t miss the pharma ads. Or expensive medicines that hardly work. Or the convoluted private medical insurance schemes which probably wouldn’t pay for my miracle snail snot. Or regulators that approve addictive narcotics and other poisons which can be used to make crystal meth while they ignore ancient and more effective snail snot. And one other thing I don’t miss: my cough. Inexpensive all natural Helicidine has all but entirely eliminated it.