Friday, 5 February 2010

In defence of pharmaceutical industry

I have no time to follow the new on a regular basis, but I always have the time to check the best Paleo-related blogs. Methuselah has made me aware of a recent BBC File on 4 broadcast on pharma industry:

It is good that such things get the attention of the media, all for the public good. But you have to see it in perspective.

Pharma industry is probably the most regulated of all. The number of hurdles in developing a new drug is beyond belief. There is scrutiny at every step. Of course, things happen sometimes because of negligence, sometimes because of greed. But the industry is there to make money.

Now consider the public health experts on a mission to make us live healthier lives on a low fat, high carb diet. What is the level of evidence in official recommendations? Where is the scrutiny? Hundreds, maybe thousands of people gained weight on Seroquel, millions are getting fat and diabetic on the official healthy diet.

A book "The Big Fat Lies" has just come out written by a British lawyer Hannah Sutter. It accuses the Food Standards Agency and its experts with conflicts of interest of making people fat, which essentially translates into more disease and more death.

Did BBC comment on this book, or at least on the evidence it contains? Each day many new people are getting diabetic and die, yet according to Google News, only Daily Mail covered the story, which can actually turn some people off reading the book.

All in all, I think that pharma industry is probably the most ethical off them all, if you consider food, transport (safety, pollution, cosmic radiation on flights), telecom (radiation), cosmetics (unfounded claims, safety, cost), clothing and shoes (chemicals, effect on posture), plastics (leaching), paints, agriculture (hormone disrupting pesticides), etc.

Also, the common conspiracy argument that Big Pharma dwells on the disease and is even interested in more people getting more and more diseased simply does not hold. With less obesity, diabetes, cancer, hypertension and arthritis the companies would simply be developing more lifestyle drugs, perhaps more gene therapies, perhaps more effort would go into longevity research (e.g. how to counter cross-linking Maillard chemicals), sports physiology research. There would always be room for improvement and profit.

Now, eat me alive :)

By the way, the Sutter book is excellent when you realise that it has been written from a lawyer's point of view. It is also an easily read summary of current low carb thinking. The author is not, however, an expert in nutrition and is not aware of nuances, such as oxidation of cholesterol and fats, omega-6 (recommenting nuts as super food) or intermittent fasting (recommending NOT to skip breakfasts). But this book is a gem and I hope things will change quite soon, i.e. in 20-30 years. For Big Pharma now is the time to start thinking strategically about the change in demand which is inevitable.


  1. The pharmaceutical industry in the UK must be the total opposite of the US companies. In fact, uttering the words "ethical" and "pharmaceutical companies" in the US is against the law since people hearing those words together invariably choke. The pharmaceutical companies only goal is to make as much money as they can, regardless of the long term effect on society.

    For example, I love how they perform clinical studies. They first get a big group of people and disqualify most who would actually need the medication. They then perform "pre-testing" with a low dose of the medication they wish to study and eliminate any subjects who experience adverse reactions. They then move to the actual study, running it in as short a time frame as possible to shown any "beneficial" effects and to minimize any long-term effects. They then publish the study if and only if the study is favorable to their product. If it isn't, they bury it.

    If a medication is first of its kind, the market potential can be in the billions of dollars and every second counts. As a former pharmacist, I saw again and again new drugs being touted as safe and effective even though the longer term risks hadn't been adequately characterized. After several years, some of them displayed alarming side effects, but only after the company had made millions and millions of dollars.

    In the US, the primary customer of the Food and Drug Administration is not the citizen. It is the pharmaceutical industry.

    Evidence-based medicine is great if one is careful to separate fact from fiction. There's a term for those who can't make the distinction; it's called delusion.

  2. Pharma companies are profit driven just like any other corporations. Driven ONLY by profit? Perhaps, but that would have to apply to any other large company in any other industry, particularily a public company owned by whoever wants to make more profit.

    The unethical things happen, whether in the US or UK, and perhaps even more abuses can be listed. All I was saying was that we have to see that in perspective. True, drugs have side effects, but think of side effects of sugar, gluten, sitting position, high heel shoes (this is serious stuff), pesticides (hormone disrupting chemicals). Think about other industries and their greed. Think about the profit driven mass media who ignore the most important things and dwell on marginal stories. Media are probably the worst, since they give people an illusion that they know and need not search more.

    Would governemts do it better? Whould they develop better drugs? I doubt it. The nutritional guideleines are largely produced by government. As long as people are not forced to take any drugs or follow any specific diet, then we can use our brains to find out what is best for us.