Discover why the Big Pharma drug companies are now feeling the pain

Friday 28th Sept 2012

  • A new book brands Big Pharma as liars - is that really news?
  • Here is how the drug trials are being manipulated in favour of the big boys
  • Why we need to choose our battles, but support this campaign

“Major pharmaceutical drugs don’t work, and the companies who make them are all lying about their research.”

Big powerful statements that would normally have the lawyers reaching for their cease and desist letters, but in this case I’m just quoting the author of a new book.

Dr Ben Goldacre has been writing a weekly piece in the Guardian newspaper called Bad Science, where he challenges all manner of health related issues.

His new book out this week called Bad Pharma opens the lid on how poorly we are being served by the drug companies.

On the Guardian website it is described as:

“An eye-opening account of how a drug comes to market – an alarming tale of missing data, badly designed trials and lax regulation.”

Sounds like interesting stuff, but really it is confirming what many of us have believed for a considerable time.

The difference here is that the media have picked up on this in a big way and are really forcing the pharmaceutical industry onto its back foot.

I managed to catch a fascinating interview between Ben and Stephen Whitehead, the chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, on the Radio 4 Today programme on Tuesday this week.

One of the topics they were discussing was the efficacy of Tamiflu.

This was the vaccine that our government spent umpteen millions of pounds on, stockpiling it at the time of the bird flu epidemic - remember that one?

Well it appears that there is considerable concern about whether the vaccine actually works, and Dr Goldacre was challenging the big cheese about why Roche (who make the drug) hadn’t released all of the trials data.

“You need to realise that Roche did make over 3200 pages of information available on this matter,” spluttered Mr Whitehead, “which forms a considerable amount of detailed trials information.”

“Indeed, but 3200 pages of how many in total?” countered the fearless doctor.

And he has a very good point.

The con trail of data

The basis of getting a license to sell a drug involves a series of high cost trials being conducted into the efficacy and safety of a new drug, or of a drug with a new use.

This data is submitted to the relevant European and local authorities (European Medicines Authority & Medicines and the Healthcare products Regulations Agency) and they issue approval on this basis.

The problems are, as the book points out, that this trials data is hugely distorted as companies only publish information that shows their products in a good light – meaning that industry sponsored trials are about four times more likely to show benefits than independent trials.

It seems that only about half of all the trials completed ever get into the public domain, or indeed even get in front of the regulator.

This is a shocking revelation I’m sure you’ll agree, but not necessarily one that we didn’t suspect.

What shocks me is that Big Pharma hasn’t taken the opportunity to get Dr Goldacre on side long before now.

Much of what the Bad Science column covers uses highly scientific approaches to rubbish anything that isn’t mainstream allopathic medicine, after all the good doctor is a GP.

He should, therefore, be a real advocate of the highly scientific trials led approach that the drug industry uses, after all they have the cash to do all of the trials needed.

The fact that he is now coming out and accusing them of telling big fat porkies really does show how badly they have messed up.

I’m no advocate of Ben’s work in many respects as he tends to be very narrow in his consideration of therapeutic approaches, often rubbishing things that I consider to have great value.

However, in this case I’m right behind him in getting the companies who hold our health in their hands to tell the truth.

If they have a trial which shows their new million dollar active ingredient doesn’t work they should be made to make that public, just as much as they should admit that the results of a trial involving seven patients only has limited value when applied to a bigger population.

These are cheap and underhand tricks aimed at deceiving the public, the medical profession and the regulators.

Just why is honesty the best policy?

I have long held the view that statins are not the answer to the problems of those with high cholesterol as they generate more health issues than they solve, and this story shows how such drugs could be made to look more convincing than they actually are.

A GP sees the hyped sales literature, checks for a licence from EMA/MHRA and looks up the published trials data and concludes all is well – but they only have a fraction of the information they need to make a proper decision on our behalf.

Long term painkiller use actually causes pain was last weeks story - once again if the trials data proves this is buried by the manufacturer then it is no wonder we never find out about it.

For too long the big companies have held sway over our lives, using their political influence to direct government policy and controlling the access we have to data that would help us make an informed choice.

It is about time someone was able to stand up and shout about it, and with the backing of a national newspaper Dr Goldacre is ideally positioned to do just that – after all they have the financial resources and access to a communication platform that lets them fight directly with the might of the big boys.

I applaud this initiative and add my support to the campaign...just don’t expect me to agree with everything that Dr Ben Goldacre has to say! 

Yours, as always

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

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