Data, Drugs, and Duping Sick Patients


Evidence based meds Goldacre quoteIn my white paper, I am to explore the ethical considerations of pharmaceutical colonialism. As described in my last post HERE, this term is when medicines that have no real medical backing are tested in sickly and underdeveloped nations (usually Africa) for profit.  Specifically, I dissected the case of the Matthias Rath Foundation, and their implementation of their multivitamin AIDS medicine in South Africa. Rath’s multivitamin was less effective than the previous anti-retrovirals, but the data was messed with to support his drug. Rath also had a supreme marketing strategy, which clung onto the South African gov’t, the “anti white man” African culture, and through extreme advertising to bash the “Western” anti-retrovirals, and promote his medicine for profit.

I read a chapter out of Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science last week, which was the missing chapter that he was only recently able to publish, b/c Goldacre was being sued by Rath’s foundation. The book describes the larger problem of misconstrued medical data, and the heinous claims that are made in the pharmaceutical industry today. The bad science and purposefully misconstrued data hinders decision makers abilities in governments, heath care firms, and doctors to make quality decisions.

Upon searching through  TED, I found that Goldacre had talked on the issue for TED! So the author of my chosen book last week, also has a TED talk…I smell serendipity. The link is here: Ben Goldacre: Battling Bad Science. Goldacre is witty and has a tremendous grasp on this problem. He is an epidemiologist, and describes misconstrued data as  “..the single biggest ethical problem in the pharmaceutical industry”.  Today, the trials and experiments that test the value of a drug are set up in a way that misrepresents the true value of that drug.

For one, Goldacre described that testing against a placebo really has no real value to doctors. Obviously, many drugs will perform better than no treatment at all, and drug companies don’t often do trials against other medications. But, he also said that there aren’t any regulations that state that you have to do more than placebo trials to legally launch a drug. So there may need to be a change in regulation, so that we can truly see a new drug’s effectiveness against previous or existing treatments. Furthermore, those who do do (haha) trials against other drugs distort evidence often times through extreme dosages. They will put their drugs performance against obscenely large and small dosages of it’s competitors. For the low dosages, the true effectiveness of the drug will not be represented. But, for high dosages, their competitors will have more side effects, which is valuable PR info that can help the new drug. There was even an example of a drug that Goldacre investigated before giving to a patient, where 76% of the information was being withheld from the public. You can find a great 2 minute clip from minute 7 to 9 where he describes this.

This TED talk really showed me how pharmaceutical colonialism can happen. Goldacre demonstrated that along with the correct marketing strategy, these firms can make their drugs look more powerful than they actually are. Before this video, I had previously understood this as a problem that only happened in underdeveloped nations. But, it is apparent to me now that developed nations are subject to pharmaceutical colo

nialism as well. We are being duped by companies who look to make a profit off of a drug that they know isn’t as good as they are saying. I struggle with the ethical complications of these business practices. In marketing, trust is built between customer and producer when the product meets the customers’ expectations. Now, expectations for drugs are obscenely high, and what will happen when patients start to lose faith in their medicines?

There are so many claims made that we easily believe in this world. We don’t choose to investigate the research or data behind a claim, because simply that would take forever and is impossible. This is a scary thought because pharmaceutical companies almost seem to be capitalizing on this. They know that people don’t inves

I am fascinated with the issue of bad science, and the ethical, management, and societal implications for the future.tigate, so why not make bigger and bolder claims? I’m sure as a pharma company, your claims are a way that you can become competitive. What worries me is if these claims become the most important way to differentiate yourself as a pharma company. If this happens, then data will continue to be tampered with even to a bigger degree, because it is the way to gain market share.

I am interested to hear what you think. In the Rath case in South Africa, these AIDS patients weren’t getting the best medication. So, do you think that through not showing the true effectiveness of a drug, we are thus hurting a person’s chance to beat a disease, and indirectly killing them?

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3 comments on “Data, Drugs, and Duping Sick Patients

  1. I agree with you that it is a scary thought that pharmaceutical companies an tamper with data. I believe that any false information regarding drugs CAN actually end lives.

  2. Another huge ethical issue of the pharma industry that you touched on is where and how medications are tested.
    I think information transparency is key in the case when stakes are high (ex. when health/life is in jeopardy). How do we balance trade secrets and proprietary product information and health and wellbeing of the public?

  3. I did not know about these manipulations of data. The test versus actual medicines versus placebos is a good point. Moreover, I don’t think the drug companies test with interaction effects. SO, adding a medicine when people are already taking medicines can be a true factor.

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