We will be resuming our discussion about science, manipulation and lies. This week we will touch lightly upon medicine. Unlike other sciences, where the information may be theoretical with little impact on everyday life, medicine affects everyone us.
Let me start by commenting on something simple, and advertisement we have all seen on TV; “Four out of Five dentists surveyed recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum.”
Let us examine this commercial, because it has an impact of how medical doctors and researchers deal with us, the public. The slogan is believed to be based upon a survey of practicing dentists conducted in the EARLY 1960’s. The company is still using data from a survey, from almost 50 years ago, to peddle their gum. We know very little about the survey, because the owners of Trident Gum claim the survey is part of a proprietary nature, basically a trade secret.
The ad also appears to say that dentists recommend you chew trident, but look at the statement closely, “…for their patients who chew gum.” Many dentists do not recommend you chew gum. Chewing gum can make some fillings and other dental work become loose. It can also force sugar into the small corners of the teeth which are hard to remove. However, chewing a sugarless gum removes the factor of having sugar forced between your teeth, which then would prevent some tooth decay; this is why some dentists recommend state that if you chew gum, make it sugarless.
As I stated, it is important to remember the example above, for this is not unusual for the marketing side of a company to manipulate the scientific data for purposes of selling a product. However, the marketing side of a company can also invade the science and research of medicines themselves.
Vioxx, or Rofecoxib, was one of the most widely used drugs ever developed. It was removed from the market after concerns it increased the risk of heart attack and stroke. Between 88,000 and 140,000 cases of serious heart disease was caused by this drug while it was on the market.
The drug was marketed by Merck & Co, which did a study showing the drug caused fewer gastrointestinal problems than other similar medicines; this study had found it increased cardiovascular risks. Dropping the heart issues from the study, it presented it findings to the FDA, which then approved the drug.
Vioxx was released in 1999, but in 2004 it “voluntarily” recalled the drug only after information was disclosed that it withheld information regarding the drug from doctors for over five years.
Vioxx is just one of the numerous drugs, which went through the entire process of being marketed to the public, then was recalled because it turned out to be hazardous to our health, or it did not cure the disease it was promised to. The issue with medicines not working, or being dangerous is based on how the research and clinical trials were done.
At one time, most research was either funded by the government, or by private groups or individuals. Today, almost 75% of all clinical trials for medicine are paid by private companies. This situation, where the scientists are being funded and paid by the pharmaceutical company, to research the medicine created by that company, causes many conflicts.
If you are a scientist and are being paid by a company, you are pressured, if not directly by a company at least indirectly. If you work for a company, you may become friends with many of the workers there. You understand that your friend has a mortgage to pay for, or their kids need braces. You also know if you reject the new drugs the company just produced, then you may lay off workers, including your friend, and even yourself.
As a research scientist, you must also look out for your own career. What if you applied for another job at a different drug manufacturer? Do you believe this new company will hire you, if they knew your previous employer spent millions of dollars developing a drug, and you conducted a clinical trial that rejected the drug’s effectiveness?
Pharmaceutical companies are that companies, big business looking for a profit. They are not looking out for your welfare; you (as a consumer) are simple a means to their end. Even if the company is severely fined, it may make a profit over time. Merck & Co, even after the Vioxx disaster, is still a major pharmaceutical company, being th 7th largest in the world.
(This is a side note from me. Companies have enjoyed the status of “being a person” since the early 1880’s, but this concept reached its peak with the “Citizen’s United” ruling.
MY point being, if companies and corporations enjoy the privileges of being a citizen of this country, perhaps it’s time they accept the responsibility of being a citizen also.
We are breathing human beings, are expected to obey the laws, and when we decide to break these laws, we are punished. Do you think a drug dealer who seals a drug on the street that kills someone will be “Fined”? No, they are imprisoned and their lives taken away when they are incarcerated.
Companies should be treated the same way; if they break the law then their companies should be destroyed also.)
These are the reasons that many clinical trials, or other medical testing end up being false. We hear on news programs numerous times about a “cure” or “treatment” for a disease, which turns out later to be false.
There is an underlying concept I am presenting. This concept is you cannot trust business with medical information. No matter how honest a scientist or the research is, eventually the corruption of the business world will creep in, and then it will affect the researchers, and afterwards the research will be tarnished.
Next Week: How to Market Your Drugs