Sunday, 31 January 2010

The Overpowering Stench of the Pharmaceutical Industry

Many corporations, lobbyists and establishments favour the pursuit of money over the health of human beings. I don't often write about it because it's too depressing - but I got a little out of my system in the first Nutshell video and last year's article about HFCS.

I listened to a radio programme on the BBC last week which so effectively exposes the cynical, grasping, manipulative mentality of the pharmaceutical industry, I just had to share it.

Fellow bloggers regularly expose the same issues, but somehow, hearing such a long and detailed exposé from an institution like the BBC, with candid testimonies from former employees, really brought it home. You can read the accompanying news story on the BBC website, or listen to the whole, one-hour program if you have time:

8 comments:

Asclepius said...

The whiff arguably extends to other areas of research:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8490291.stm

Methuselah said...

Ah yes - I forgot to mention vanity, pride and ambition, which as this story demonstrates, are also powerul motivators. Thanks for the link.

PaleoDoc MD, PhD said...

Thanks for bringing it up! After all, the pharma is about "pay now" and "(hope to) live (healthier) later".

I do think, however, that when seen in perspective, pharma is not that bad, considering the sheer number of opportunities where things can get much worse.

I read your blog when I was in the middle of writing about the just released "The Big Fat Lies" book about the Food Standards Agency "making people fat". It appears that side effects from the offcial healthy diet can be many orders of magnitude more prevalent that those from pharmaceuticals. Yet, there is little talk about this in the UK or elsewhere.

I made a comment about it on my blog:
http://paleoclinic.blogspot.com/2010/02/in-defence-of-pharmaceutical-industry.html

Thanks for the inspiration!

Asclepius said...

There is a paper below on marketing based medicine:

"While much excitement has been generated surrounding evidence-based medicine, internal documents from the pharmaceutical industry suggest that the publicly available evidence base may not accurately represent the underlying data regarding its products. The industry and its associated medical communication firms state that publications in the medical literature primarily serve marketing interests. Suppression and spinning of negative data and ghostwriting have emerged as tools to help manage medical journal publications to best suit product sales, while disease mongering and market segmentation of physicians are also used to efficiently maximize profits"

http://www.springerlink.com/content/b674622731k4850q/

Methuselah said...

PaleoDoc - thanks for sharing your post. Interesting stuff. The Sutter book looks good - nice to see the UK finally catching up with the US on this front.

I'm afraid I don't buy your optimistic outlook on the pharma industry, though. Being highly regulated is not any guarantee of probity. Regulators operate within frameworks and with conventions which can themselves be flawed. Sutter's book demonstrates how government-controlled or independent bodies (in this case the FSA) supposedly dedicated to ensuring people or organisations do the right thing are capable of being misguided or subject to suspect motives. Placing faith in the system of regulation to ensure the pharma companies do the right thing would not be wise in my view. If tight regulation on the production of drugs were all that's needed, how did the Seroquel debacle take place at all?

I'll be interested to see whether others have a different view.

Methuselah said...

Thanks Asclepius - I had not read your comment before I wrote my reply to PaleoDoc, but it certainly supports my position

Drs. Cynthia and David said...

This is a topic I have a keen interest in, and have been a player in, in a limited sense (IP issues). I have mixed views about big Pharma (and even little Pharma and univ. research). It became common in the last decade or so for even univ. researchers to discover something (some new enzyme or receptor), file a patent on it, and try to sell it to some Pharma co. Startup companies would get founded, venture capitalists would come in, IPOs would happen, lots of people make money. All for some possible hypothetical efficacy based on a possibly flawed understanding of the human disease process, that doesn't consider our unhealthy lifestyles and diets as possible drivers. Big Pharma produces a lot of their own research, but much of it is bought or in-licensed from small pharma/startups ($20-100M range). So greed is behind all of the drivers of the pharma industry right now. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, it's just that there is a lot of emphasis on coming up with new drug targets, and very little motivation to actually understand human physiology and biochemistry. That's why we have so many drugs that fail in trials or that cause bad side effects. So much money is invested in getting the drug to market though, they have a vested interest in pushing that drug through as far and long as possible to recoup some profits. The shareholders expect the industry to act in their interest, and in fact the company management has a duty to act in their interest, but not in the best interest of the public. So I basically agree with you. The only piece of the puzzle protecting the public is the FDA and similar groups, and they sometimes err on the side of safety but cave in when the clamoring gets too loud.

Cynthia

Methuselah said...

Thanks Cynthia - good insights. The part of the story that I thought was most telling was the tactic used by the pharmas of deluging the regulators with such massive volumes of documents and data that they had no hope of extracting the necessary information to establish whether or not the results supported the claims.

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