When Big Pharma Gives You Lemons, They Get Lemonade
Are you sitting down?
What would you think if I told you that more than 90 percent of all drugs are effective for only 30 to 50 percent of those who use them?
Shocking, right? No–here’s what’s shocking: That estimate comes from a senior executive for GlaxoSmithKline, one of the largest drug companies in the world.
As I mentioned seven years ago, that quote caused a stir when it hit the news. And over the past seven years, you might say the other shoe dropped. Disastrous fiascos like Vioxx, Avandia, and statins revealed that prescription drugs can also be quite dangerous.
So with the public starting to get as jumpy as cats in a hurricane about using newly-approved drugs, who is the last person drug companies want to hear from?
Someone like Donald Light, Ph.D., who states it boldly: The drug industry is a “market for lemons.”
Ask your doctor if lemons are right for you
Specifically, Dr. Light calls the drug industry a “two-tier market for lemons.”
In tier one, drug companies overstate a new drug’s benefits and downplay or even hide details about serious side effects.
Tier two: Doctors are given misleading information that they pass along to their patients.
And a lot of patients go home with a lot of lemons.
In an analysis he presented at the recent annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Dr. Light ticked off three key reasons why the drug industry produces lemon after lemon:
1) New drugs are tested by drug companies
2) Drug companies put up complex walls of legal protection to hide information about possible harm or lack of effectiveness
3) A new drug doesn’t actually need to be very effective to get FDA approval
Hmmm…I wonder if Dr. Light’s been reading the HSI e-Alert!
He’s also been pouring over research. And he found this gem: In a study that examined more than 100 drug applications, about 40 percent didn’t have adequately randomized trials, nearly 40 percent were short of evidence to support efficacy, and only about half recognized serious adverse side effects.
Yeah…that sounds about right.
But here’s the best part: the drug industry rebuttal.
A senior VP of PhRMA (an industry advocacy group) told The Pharma Letter that Dr. Light’s analysis is “insulting to patients.” And you can imagine the gist of his defense: Many billions of dollars are devoted to R&D each year, lives are improved and extended, it’s difficult to bring a drug to market, etc.
And on the topic of safety: “To allege a lack of transparency about the risks of medicines is flatly incorrect.”
How in the world did he manage to say that without busting out laughing? A lack of transparency is a drug industry art! Even the CIA doesn’t do lack-of-transparency as well as drug companies do.
In the end, I thought Dr. Light’s analysis was best summed up by this comment from Dr. Max Pemberton, a columnist for The Telegraph: “A drug company’s principle responsibility is to its shareholders, not to the patient.”
There you go. Once you get that, everything else is transparently clear.
To Your Good Health,
“Pharmaceuticals: A market for producing ‘lemons’ and serious harm” PHYSorg, 8/17/10, physorg.com
“USA’s PhRMA slams study that finds pharmaceuticals “a two- tier market for producing ‘lemons’ and serious harm” The Pharma Letter, 8/27/10, thepharmaletter.com
“Why new pills are rarely the best medicine” Max Pemberton, The Telegraph, 8/18/10, telegraph.co.uk