I read an interesting article by Ben Goldacre in the New Scientist recently. He’s about to challenge ‘bad pharma,’ specifically issues with clinical trials, “biased evidence communicated to doctors in a chaotic and distorted system by marketing departments.” It looks like he’s expecting some backlash; pharmaceuticals is a multi-billion dollar business. I also found out entirely by coincidence that drugs are at their most profitable when they’re new and under patent. Patents expire so there’s significant pressure to create and release more new drugs. Of course before this can happen clinical trials have to take place.
On a day-to-day basis most of us don’t need to think about clinical trials, misleading data or licentious marketing claims. But there are a lot of people out there who ought to know about this. People who get invited to drug trials because their disease is of particular interest or the folks who’ve simply exhausted all the standard medical options. I’m one of them; I agreed to take part in a clinical trial because it’s designed to tell us the optimal regime for a relatively new drug. My consultant said when this drug launched the company “kind of assumed” what the optimal regime should be…. Now they’re thinking something less intense might be better. But they need people like me to trial the theory.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think clinical trials are of vital importance and I’m still happy to be taking part. I know the risks and have had plenty of opportunity to evaluate them. But I’m a diligent researcher, a questioner and I’ve got a fair understanding of medicine and science. Not everyone will know where to find more information, what questions to ask or how to weigh-up their options. Especially when they’re already stressed by a worrying diagnosis.
It seems solving humanities health issues is a little like an arms race. Everyone wants to win because winning means phenomenal profits. (To be fair drug research is incredibly expensive). Such manoeuvres inevitably mean loss of troops only these troops aren’t military personnel, they’re ordinary people like you and me. My heart desperately wants to believe ‘bad pharma’ can’t be true. My head is telling me Judas Iscariot may still be walking among us.