Big Pharma: Bad Science AND Bad Business

As promised, we’ve been hot on the trail of Big Pharma lately, passing along every bit of damning truth we can find. This Sunday’s LATimes carried an article we call an “essential read” for anyone who’s been following and cursing the industry’s exploitation of the American public.

The strategy that has made the pharmaceutical industry one of the wealthiest and most powerful on Earth is finally starting to betray it. Beginning in just a few weeks, and continuing over the next several years, some of the biggest-selling and most profitable drugs in history will lose their patent protection. …The real problem is that the industry’s scientists have hit a dry spell. They are not discovering enough new drugs to replace the aging standbys. Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved just 19 new medicines, according to preliminary data, the fewest since 1983. Lost in all the hand-wringing on Wall Street is a recognition of how the industry got itself into this fix in the first place. For 25 years, the drug industry has imitated the basic business model of Hollywood. Pharmaceutical executives, like movie moguls, have focused on creating blockbusters. …The strategy had a flaw that executives have long ignored: It required extraordinary amounts of promotion at the expense of scientific creativity. To make the strategy work, the drug industry put its marketers in charge; scientists were given a back seat. Is it any wonder that executives at many companies have watched their pipelines of new drugs slow to a trickle?

via LA Times

The article goes on to detail depraved and doomed business model of the Big Pharma execs, who the author notes are now much more likely to be former marketing gurus than M.D.s. Their “blockbuster” objective has not only diminished the role of scientists (and science!) within the companies, it’s pushed out the vision of developing drugs for truly life-threatening medical conditions (as opposed to common “symptoms”) in this country and abroad, such as malaria, which the article notes, “kills a child every 30 seconds.”

An article in The New Yorker last week highlighted the growth of “medical philanthropies” that devote their dollars to the development of treatments for medical conditions the pharmaceutical industry sees no financial motivation to invest in. The foundation leader profiled was none other than a former Big Pharma exec who set up her own medical philanthropy after developing myeloma, a form of cancer with relatively few treatment options and a grim prognosis. Is it too much to ask for these corporations to cure real diseases?

It’s no surprise to us that Big Pharma is headed for a big fall. The faster the better, we say. Their marketing ploys, which have preyed upon the fears and lack of medical knowledge (Do we all need to go to medical school now to protect ourselves?) in the general public are more than a greedy sham; they’re a crime. These companies don’t answer for the deaths associated with premature distribution and advertising of drugs, like Vioxx, that haven’t been thoroughly tested for longer term safety issues across a wide range of people. They don’t answer for the debilitating side effects of their happy commercial jingle drugs, side effects that many patients will live with for the rest of their lives. Come in with slightly “elevated” cholesterol levels and a couple years later (and many dollars poorer) be left with debilitating muscle pain. And those pesky little lawsuits? With multi-billion dollar profits every year, the payouts are momentary inconveniences, simple drops in the bucket.

For now, however, Big Pharma will continue its “blockbuster model.” As the article noted, Eli Lilly is now beginning the marketing initiative for its newly approved daily version of Cialis. And millions of Americans (in this case, men) will ask their doctor about it at their next appointments. Clearly, Big Pharma is going to suck this model dry, trodding along, eyeing the public in typical ravenous fashion. Follow the Pied Piper, ladies and gents, free trial offer included.

net efekt Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

PharmaGossip: Big Pharma Job Cuts En Masse

Pharma Marketing Blog: The Looming Patent Meltdown

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