Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Latest Posts

Demonizing Drug Companies

by Michael Kirsch, MD

Demonizing the pharmaceutical industry has become a parlor game for many who enjoy the challenge of shooting at an oversized target. Scapegoating Big Pharma? Now, that takes guts.

Never mind the gazillions they spend on research and development to create tomorrow’s treatments for cancer, arthritis, depression, infectious diseases, heart attacks and strokes. I know that drug industry executives are not all eagle scouts whose mission is solely to save humanity. But, they are not an evil enemy that we need to contain like the “swine flu” pandemic. Sure, they make a profit, and they deserve to. Drugs cost multiple millions of dollars to develop, and most of them never make it to market. Those that do, after years of testing and F.D.A. review, can be summarily shut down when unexpected serious adverse reactions are suspected. In these cases, there may be no actual proof that the medicines were responsible for the ‘side effect’.

I’m not suggesting that we demand airtight proof before issuing drug warnings, only that we beware of what happens if drug company profits can be decimated with the stroke of a pen. Playing rough with the drug companies may appeal to our populist sensibilities, but it can go too far and stifle innovation.

Drug companies need the promise of large profits if they are to take the risks inherent in developing new and novel medicines for all of us. What other business would invest in a new product or technology without the potential for substantial financial gain? Before we advocate price controls for medicines or shortening intervals of patent protection, consider the side effects of this clumsy approach. If we hit Big Pharma too hard, then they will play it safe and churn out lots of drugs that we don’t really need.

Which would you rather they invest in? Another drug for heartburn that is no better than all the others on the shelf, or a vaccine to prevent cancer?

If they succeed in the latter endeavor, I hope they earn hundreds of millions of dollars. This will still be less than the number of lives they will save.

Michael Kirsch is a gastroenterologist who blogs at MD Whistleblower.

Submit a guest post and be heard.

*This blog post was originally published at KevinMD.com*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

Read more »

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

See all book reviews »