Is Big Pharma in Trouble?

Recent political developments as well as series of problems with so-called blockbuster drugs have caused the pharmaceutical industry to go on the defensive. After the bad news surrounding VioxxTM followed up this year by the news that the diabetes drug AvandiaTM causes an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, companies like GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer have been forced to scramble to stem the tide of bad publicity. They are doing this by protesting that the data being presented is somehow biased and false instead of owning up to the error of their way and admitting that they didn’t do their homework.

There really seems to be a need to revamp the way clinical trials are being done in order to protect the public and secondly to help with the creation of newer and better drugs to help people. The profit above all modus operandi which at first held promise of incentivizing the pharmaceutical industry has instead created a monster who takes diseases and syndromes which may typically only address a small number of people and creates a marketing campaign to include people who have no business taking the drug. The side-effects that crop up are then treated with other drugs which that the patient wouldn’t have needed had they never taken the unnecessary first medication.

Do I have the answer?  Maybe. What we need is independent, for-profit companies that would be paid by the pharmaceutical industry to run the clinical trials. As a protection against collusion, the government could set up huge penalties for breaking the independence. 

Here are some of the benefits behind my proposal:

If bad results came out of a trial, it would have to be made public due to regulations that could be written into law.

  • The drug companies could no longer hide data that showed problems with the drug studied which would increase the protection to the public.
  • Independent research would bring back public confidence.
  • It would replace the development of minimally helpful drugs who only are slightly better (if at all) than existing ones with true blockbusters that might really improve peoples lives.

Here are some of the arguments that might arise:

It might stifle scientific innovation (which it wouldn’t, it just might cut into profit a wee bit).

  • It would slow down the process of bringing a new drug to market (actually it might speed things up).
  • It will delay or stop medications from being developed that only help small numbers of people (they already don’t do this enough anyway).

While this might not be the perfect system, it needs to be debated and at the very least a change is in order. It’s the perfect political climate with the Democrats in control of both sides of Congress since Big Pharma decided to donate 69% of its political contributions in 2006 to the Republicans which is the most of any major industry (excluding oil – surprise surprise). 

Instead of targeting the nutraceutical/alternative health industry whose track record of safety far surpasses the pharmaceuticals, it would be in their best interest to look inwards and come up with independent ways of running clinical trials. It’s time to change with the times Big Pharma.