The drug industry's strange dilemma: the placebo effect is getting stronger

Drug companies are hurting because of something they never saw coming: The placebo effect seems to be getting stronger.

In order to get a new drug approved, a drug company has to present at least two studies in which the drug performs better than placebo. But this is getting harder to do, according to a recent article in Wired magazine.

In 2007, the FDA approved less than 20 first-of-their-kind drugs. That’s the fewest since 1983. In 2008, only 24 new drugs were approved. Wired reports that half of all new drugs fail the clinical trial process because of an inability to test more effectively than placebo.

As a result, drug companies are now researching the mysteries of the placebo effect. And they’re finding that they may have shot themselves in the foot.

Turn on your television during prime time and you’ll see why. Commercial after commercial features smiling, contented, healthy, happy people who have achieved this state of Madison Avenue fantasy bliss through the use of prescription drugs.

Sure, we may laugh about the awful side effects mentioned in those commercials, but the positive images linked to drug use stay with us. The result: an out-of-control placebo effect.

It’s going to be hard to get that genie back in the bottle.

“Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why” Steve Silberman, Wired, 8/24/09,