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Niche Science And Targeted Medicines Vs. “Magic Bullets”

Maybe you read the other day in The New York Times that the pharmaceutical industry has a problem. Big blockbuster drugs like Lipitor are going off patent and the industry leaders don’t have new blockbusters showing promise to replace them. So the big companies search for little companies with new discoveries and they consider buying them. Industry observers think the days of $5 billion-a-year drugs to lower cholesterol or control diabetes may be past for awhile, and the companies will have smaller hits with new compounds for autoimmune conditions and cancer.

When I saw my oncologist for a checkup yesterday — the news was good — we chatted about the article and the trend toward “niche science.” We welcomed it. We didn’t think — from our perspective — the world needed yet another drug to lower cholesterol. We need unique products to fight illnesses that remain daunting, some where there are no effective drugs at all. For example, my daughter has suffered for years from what seems to be an autoimmune condition called eosinophilic gastroenteritis (EGID). Her stomach gets inflamed with her own eosinophil cells. They would normally be marshaled to fight a parasite in her GI tract but in this case, there’s nothing to attack. So the cells make trouble on the lining of the stomach and cause pain and scarring. Right now, there’s no “magic bullet” to turn off these cells. My hope is some pharma scientists will come up with something to fill this unmet need.

In the waiting room before I saw my doctor at the cancer center in Seattle I overheard a woman on the phone speaking about her husband’s new diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. I was sitting at a patient education computer station nearby. When she was finished I introduced myself and showed her some webpages to give her education and hope: pancan.org and our Patient Power programs about the disease. She was grateful. I did tell her — and she already knew — that there was no miracle drug for pancreatic cancer and that it was a usually-fatal condition. But that there were exceptions and, hopefully, her husband would be one. Of course, wouldn’t an effective medicine be best? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Andrew's Blog*

More Doctors Are Refusing Industry Perks And Gifts

Christmas present by the Italian voice via FlickrPhysicians and particularly primary care doctors are reporting fewer industry ties than five years ago, according to a survey.

While 94% of doctors reported some type of perk from a drug or device maker in 2004, 83.8% did in 2009, researchers reported in the Nov. 8 Archives of Internal Medicine.

Researchers surveyed a stratified random sample of 2,938 primary care physicians (internal medicine, family practice, and pediatrics) and specialists (cardiology, general surgery, psychiatry and anesthesiology) with a 64.4% response rate. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Is Looking At “Long Term” Impossible In Our Healthcare System?

I spent last week in Gothenburg, Sweden covering the European Committee for the Treatment of Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS) meeting. Lots of good science, lots of excitement over the new oral and targeted therapies coming on the market to treat this awful disease. But what I want to write about isn’t the science, but about how it will play out in the brave new world of healthcare in which we all live in today.

For instance, consider the first oral therapy to hit the market: Gilenya (fingolimod), which the FDA approved in September. Last month Novartis announced the price: $48,000 a year.

This is not a rant against the high cost of drugs, however. It is a rant against the inability of our healthcare system to take the long view of the impact of such drugs, a view that is particularly important with a chronic disease like MS that strikes healthy young adults in their early 20s and 30s. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at A Medical Writer's Musings on Medicine, Health Care, and the Writing Life*

Do Drug Companies Pay Attention To Herbal Medicine?

I’m only a monthly contributor here, but between being a Science Based Medicine (SBM) reader and having my own blogs, I often grow weary of the blind criticism that researchers and drug companies couldn’t care less about traditional folk medicines as drug products. My laboratory spends every single day working on natural product extracts in the search for compounds that may have selective effectiveness against cancer. So this is a bit of a sore spot for me.

Two [recent] papers from Cancer Prevention Research on the potential anticancer effects of a diabetes drug (see Nathan Seppa’s story here) remind me to tell the story of a Middle Ages European herbal medicine used to treat polyuria that gave rise to one of the most widely prescribed drugs in the world, metformin (Glucophage in the U.S.). Metformin, known chemically as a biguanide, dimethylguanide to be precise, traces its roots to the plant Galega officinalis. Known as goat’s rue, French lilac, or professor weed, this plant was shown to be a rich source of guanidine and a less toxic compound later called galegin or galegine (isoamyline guanidine). Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

Industry-Sponsored Medical Education: Should Big Pharma Buy Doctors Lunch?

Big Pharma Free Lunch WagonAppetite for Instruction: Why Big Pharma should buy your doctor lunch sometimes” is the headline of an article on Slate.com that has upset many readers. I’m not terribly upset about it because it just seems too naive and misinformed to get upset about. The final line of the piece tells you all you need to know about the tone of the column:

“Ousting commercial support is creating a huge chasm in medical education, leaving doctors not only hungry but also starved for knowledge.”

A number of online comments were posted in reaction to the piece. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview Blog*

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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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