With a pill for every possible situation, pharmaceutical companies see patients as no more than pound-signs

Pharmaceutical companies' devotion to making money is holding back new treatments - and risking the health of those who buy their products

Share

As if our suffering patients didn’t have it bad enough, now the pharmaceuticals go and announce the failure of yet more drug trials dashing hopes for the million UK sufferers of Alzheimer’s.

Your health is our top concern,” trumpets one pharmaceutical company. Yet if these latest drug failures coupled with the outbreak of scandals surrounding the pharmaceutical industry are anything to go by it makes clear that big pharma’s main concern is anything but our health.

So what is it that drives the industry?

Profit. Obscene profit. To be more precise, profits that rank the almighty pharmas as one of the world’s wealthiest industries along with oil and gas production.

The pharmas devotion to profit is overriding the invention of new treatments for the benefit of our health. According to a paper for the British Medical Journal by Professors Donald Light and Joel, their persistently low rate of marketable novel drugs can be blamed on the measly 1.3% of their billions invested into discovering new chemical entities. Compare this to the whopping 25% they spend on marketing. This means their drugs get more marketing than Nike ploughs into its trainers.

And the majority of these entrants are not even new drugs at all, but so called ‘me too’ products, mere tweaks of existing drugs marketed to boost profits.

That’s not all. The pharmas rely upon a drug development process that sees a 92% failure of all drugs entering clinical trials, as reported by the Food and Drug Administration’s Commissioner in The Scientist in 2004. And this is even after the pharmas have fiddled with the trail designs and manipulated the results to produce favourable data, as Ben Goldacre reports in his book “Bad Pharma”.

All this wily trickery just to get a drug licensed and still the best they are able to achieve is a success of less than one in 10. You would think such an abysmal success rate would flag an inherent flaw crying out for urgent attention wouldn’t you?

Instead, the patent flaw goes overlooked, the quirks in the licensing system persist and reliance upon animal models which fail as a safety screening test for new drugs for humans continues.

What all this means is that licensed drugs present an unknown toxic risk to humans.  For as long as we continue to test new drugs on animals, it is we humans who will always be the true guinea pigs – as evidenced by the high withdrawal rate of those drugs that are granted a licence but go on to cause severe side effects. Another paper in the British Medical Journal quantifies the cost of adverse drug reactions at 6.5% (over a million) of hospital admissions and two billion pounds to our cash stricken NHS two billion pounds every year.

To add to this terrifying picture –once the drugs have been approved-  pharmas cannot be relied upon to fulfill their monitoring obligations and report these adverse reactions. An investigation is underway into pharmaceutical giant Roche for its failure to disclose reports of 15,000 deaths and 65,000 suspected side effects reported by people taking its medicines over a 15 year period in the USA. Roche has stated that the failure to report was not intentional.


Here in the UK, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is the government drug regulator responsible for post-marketing drug surveillance. Yet according to a 2005 report by the House of Commons Health Committee the MHRA has fallen into bed with the industry it is supposed to be monitoring. It is entirely funded by fees from those it regulates and, unlike most regulators, it competes with other European agencies for fee income. This has resulted in the MHRA losing sight of the need to protect and promote public health above all else as it seeks to win fee income from the pharmas. But despite these concerns, the government has yet to pass responsibility for the pharmaceutical industry from the Department of Health into the remit of the Department of Trade and Industry, as was recommended in the report.

In today’s era of poly-pharmacy, we are prescribed drugs not only to control a condition, relieve symptoms or cure a disease but also to treat the fit and healthy and keep them just that - fit and healthy, as nature is already doing so well. The Health Committee’s report refers to the “Medicalisation of our society – a pill for every ill” they should add – “and for every person”. The pharmas would have us all medicated, one way or another.

This system is totally unjustifiable. This violation of our health market cannot continue. We cannot allow the commercial interests of the pharmaceutical industry to be prioritised over the interests of patients. The time for a scientific overhaul of the drug development process and tighter regulations over the pharmaceutical industry is long overdue. The pharmaceuticals must swallow the bitter pill; our health should be their top concern.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash the two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in new political order

Michael Ashcroft
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before