Thursday, January 27, 2011

I'm So Sick of People Bitching About Big Pharma

On the paleo/primal blogs I read, people are always going on about Big Pharma. Big Pharma this, Big Pharma that, blah blah blah. The US has a pharmaceutical industry that promotes big winners and copycat drugs and is forced to toe the party line such as swallowing the lipid hypothesis, statins currently being the most egregious and ubiquitous example of bad medicine. But what these people don't care to question is the root cause of this distorted system. Is it because big corporations are inherently evil? Perhaps it has much more to do with government meddling.

Why are statins such a big win for Big Pharma? Is it possible to get a big research grant to study the efficacy of a diet high in saturated fat or that boldly contradicts the lipid hypothesis? Or to publish these results in a "respectable" journal like JAMA? The US government has been pushing the lipid hypothesis forever, and the FDA makes it prohibitively expensive and time-consuming to get a drug approved, so of course pharmaceutical companies are going to play it safe by making drugs that force down cholesterol. But the incentives to make statins weren't created by the free market, they were created by government interference. Widespread statin use is not the result of evil corporations trying to kill people and take all their money, it is simply a response to these artificial government incentives.

It currently takes about "$1.3 billion on average to bring a new drug to market", and in 2010 only 21 drugs were approved. Once these drugs are finally allowed onto the market they are milked, and milked aggressively. After all, $1.3 billion doesn't exactly grow on trees. Drug company critics complain about copycat drugs stifling innovation, but what about the FDA stifling innovation?

Perhaps the solution to this terribly selfish alleged lack of innovation is to create yet another government agency to "help" Big Pharma. Meet the proposed National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences:
What sorts of therapeutics would be the focus of the proposed Center? In addition to strengthening and streamlining the process of developing small-molecule compounds into drugs, the Center would support research aimed at accelerating the development of a full range of products and techniques for the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease, including diagnostics, biologics, medical devices, and behavioral interventions.
Yeah, because when it comes to streamlining, creating another government bureaucracy has been shown to be brilliantly effective. Oh, and they would support research, too. I can see that working out quite well. Would that research be deftly innovative or stuck in the trenches of the current mythology? That was a rhetorical question.

And by the way, there's no such thing as translational science! Physics is a science, chemistry is a science. Translational is NOT a science! How do you advance something that doesn't even exist? Bloody government doublespeak.

I'm especially enamored of the proposed "behavioral interventions". You mean like telling everyone to cut out sat fat and replace it with "heart-healthy" grains and Canola oil? How's that behavioral intervention working out?

Statins are bad, m'kay. But I know some extremely intelligent and hardworking people in the pharmaceutical industry and these people don't stay up late at night scheming to shorten people's lives in order to prescribe them unneeded medicine. In fact, the reason the industry can attract some of the best and brightest is because it still manages to provide interesting and well-paying jobs despite all the bullshit.

Blaming Big Pharma for atrocities such as the statin epidemic is like blaming the current obesity epidemic on an excess of calories.


  1. My great-great something grandmother watched all six of her children die in seven days from diphtheria (and then went on to have more, obviously). I think she would have been very happy to have had a diphtheria vaccine.

  2. Great and well appreciated post. Big Pharma is responding to conditions that they did not create. The people researching and creating drugs to treat what diseases that they did not create are doing what they can do to treat what is already there.
    The misguiding political elites are the real culprits in this mess. And individual choice, sugar and carbs are tasty and addictive. Even people who know that changing what they eat (paleo/primal) makes them feel better do not always toe the line (speaking of myself).
    Again, the political elites that control the funding and the "bully pulpit" are the ones we should be focusing our energies towards influencing, especially those of us that are in the USA. Of course it is individuals that make up the bureaucracy that really need to be influenced and they are the toughest to root out.
    BTW, are you fully ex-pat (taken on new citizenship) or do you retain the right to vote in the US? I have friends that are both and find their reasoning for their approaches to be quite interesting.

  3. @Class

    How people even survived such emotional devastation is what I want to know. Man, talk about tough cookies. I'd have just pulled a Hemingway at that point.


    Thanks! No, I don't have any plans to go full monty on the citizenship thing. And my kid will be a dual citizen of both the EU and the US (as soon as we get around to getting him his US passport) so he'll be able to work/study anywhere in America or the EU, which is nice. My mother had me registered at her address (my official US address) and then I got summoned for jury duty and it was a pain to get out of, ha ha. I don't have any strong convictions on asserting my right to vote since I'm not a big fan of either party (although I think Gary Johnson is really cool and even met him briefly back when he was gov).

  4. I suggest you have this same conversation with Dr. Duane Graveline (down in Florida) and author of several books on this issue
    I think there is some potential cross pollination between you two.