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Drug Company Disguised Advertising As Science 172

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the maximize-shareholder-value dept.
ananyo writes "A former pharmaceutical company employee has blown the whistle on drug promotion disguised as science. Drug companies occasionally conduct post-marketing studies to collect data on the safety and efficacy of drugs in the real world, after they've been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 'However,' writes the anonymous author in an editorial in the British Medical Journal (subscription required), 'some of the [post-marketing] studies I worked on were not designed to determine the overall risk:benefit balance of the drug in the general population. They were designed to support and disseminate a marketing message.' According to the whistleblower, the results of these studies were often dubious. 'We occasionally resorted to "playing" with the data that had originally failed to show the expected result,' he says. 'This was done by altering the statistical method until any statistical significance was found.' He adds that the company sometimes omitted negative results and played down harmful side effects. Nature says it was unable to work out who the writer was but they likely worked on diabetes and the studies criticized were from the Denmark-based pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk."
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Drug Company Disguised Advertising As Science

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  • zzzz (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MickyTheIdiot (1032226) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @12:35PM (#40310611) Homepage Journal

    Perhaps if big Pharma was actually honest that would merit a story.

    SOP.

    • Re:zzzz (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ohnocitizen (1951674) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @01:13PM (#40311229)
      It is worth a story for the following reasons: 1. Our attention span is incredibly short. 2. No one would claim a serial killer's latest crime wasn't a story for the mere reason it was expected. 3. Our attention span is incredibly short.
  • Big Surprise (Score:4, Insightful)

    by redrew89 (2636451) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @12:38PM (#40310665)
    Pharmacutical companies, especially in the US, are constantly making dubious claims, and marketing products that, occasionally, provide more suffering in the form of side-effects, than the disease they are designed to treat. It's generally accepted that these companies are genuinely apathetic to the medical issues, and simply do anything they can to maximize profit. Next, you'll be telling me that the firearms industry deliberately pressures governments into military action.
    • by Cosgrach (1737088)

      I have to agree on this. It has been my experience that they really don't give two shits about actually curing anything - a great many (if not most) of the drugs that are made simply treat they symptoms and not the root cause. Just why is this? PROFIT! Actually curing anything leads to lower profits in the future. They must keep the investors happy you know.

      The best way to good health is to eat good foods in reasonable portions, exercise, and keep the weight off. Limiting exposure to harmful chemicals

      • by mosb1000 (710161)

        Aside from antibiotics and anti viral medications (which scare the shit out of me, honestly), all drugs treat only symptoms. You ether keep taking them until you get better due to some other natural process, or you keep taking them for the rest of your life, unless you want your symptoms to return. And what's worse, they pretty much all have harmful side-effects. I cringe when I see older people taking handfuls of drugs three times a day. How could all that possibly be necessary? Wouldn't it be better just

        • Re:Big Surprise (Score:5, Informative)

          by Kozar_The_Malignant (738483) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @03:29PM (#40313123)

          >How could all that possibly be necessary?

          They're old. Stuff starts going wrong.

          >Wouldn't it be better just to suffer through whatever symptoms they have?

          No. Suffering through the symptoms of diabetes, hypertension, atrial fibrillation pretty much sucks and also leads to earlier death than otherwise.

          • by mosb1000 (710161)

            Assuming someone had all three of those conditions, it would explain only three medications. The problem, of course, is that even in older patients, conditions like those are experienced by less than 10% of individuals. So there is definitely something seriously wrong, regardless of your ability to cite a few conditions you may want to treat. Furthermore, in the case of type 2 diabetes and hypertension, there are preventative lifestyle choices that are far more effective than any drug, if the warning signs

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        And stay away from any and all bacteria and viruses... whoops, you just got an allergy. Oh, and stay inside, too, because that bus causes cancer. [nytimes.com]

        Sorry, but you must be very young and gullible. "The best way to good health is to eat good foods in reasonable portions, exercise, and keep the weight off" is absolute bullshit. Yes, those things are all good for you (having good genes is even better) but they won't stop you from catching cold or the flu or e-coli [go.com].

        You WILL get sick. You WILL die. Living a healthy

        • by Cosgrach (1737088)

          Sorry Buckwheat. Go Fish!

          I know that I should not feed the Troll, but sometimes I feel the need. You sir, are a Troll.

          I certainly do not advocate the 'disinfect everything' lifestyle. To do so would be a foolish thing indeed. And I don't really give a fuck if the bus causes cancer.

          It is generally accepted that adopting healthy eating habits can improve your health. Eating shit will most certainly make your life miserable later - but often sooner. To argue that would make you a moron.

          Personally, I have

    • Re:Big Surprise (Score:4, Insightful)

      by shentino (1139071) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @01:37PM (#40311621)

      Just because it's the status quo doesn't make it right.

      Apathy is what allows this crap to continue.

  • Everyone does this (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @12:41PM (#40310703)

    This was done by altering the statistical method until any statistical significance was found

    I'm convinced that backing into a conclusion by playing with analysis is the raison d'être of most white collar work in the Western world. Using 'risk' models to rationalize market positions enables arbitrary use of capital by so-called banks. Economic and climate analysis pretty much boil down to teasing out curves that fit the preconceived policies of various statists.

    Not surprising that multi-billion dollar drug companies.leverage the same tools. Monkey see monkey do.

    • by dkleinsc (563838) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @12:47PM (#40310811) Homepage

      George Carlin said it best:

      Cuz ya do know folks, Ya do know, livng in this country you know, that every time you're exposed to advertising you realize once again that America's leading industry, America's most profitable business is still the manufacturing, packaging, distribution, and marketing of BULLSHIT. High quality, Grade A, Prime cut, Pure American BULLSHIT.

      And the sad part is, Most people seem indoctorinated to believe that bullshit only comes from certain places, certain sources. Advertising, politics, salesmen, not true. Bullshit is everywhere, bullshit is rampant. Parents are full of shit, teachers are full of shit, clergymen are full of shit, and law enforcment people are full of shit, this entire country is completely full of shit, and always has been, from the Declaration of Independance, to the Constitution, to the Star Spangled Banner, it's really nothing more than one BIG steaming pile of red white and blue all Americian BULLSHIT.

      • by steelfood (895457)

        And this is all probably true for his time. But since then, the manufacturing has been outsourced to Canada since they have more cows.

      • by Tanktalus (794810)

        Sure, sure. It's all bullshit. And, as another commenter remarked, Penn and Teller even have a show about it. But, do you know what is worse than "red white and blue all American BULLSHIT"? UN bullshit. Iranian bullshit. Russian bullshit. Peoples' Republic of China bullshit. Absolute-monarchy bullshit. Anarchist bullshit. Seriously, if you're going to be that cynical, you have to realise that the alternatives are all bullshit too.

        Of course, if everything is bullshit, that really means it's just yo

        • by Obfuscant (592200)
          This.

          I recall one time hearing Carlin's rant about disease. He took a really sick shot at eating disorders. It was almost as if he completely ignored mental disorders as a cause of physical problems. No, it wasn't almost, he deliberately ignored them. He was busy telling anorexics to "just eat" and bulemics to stop, and that their body dysmorphic issues were all due to their poor decision making abilities. It was their fault and they should just suck it up and stop being whatever they were.

          That one rant s

    • by boristdog (133725) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @12:48PM (#40310823)

      This was done by altering the statistical method until any statistical significance was found

      I'm convinced that backing into a conclusion by playing with analysis is the raison d'être of most white collar work in the Western world.

      I thought that's how we were taught to do labs back in all my science classes.

    • I don't blame them - a lot of this is for CYA reasons. If things go tits up - you can point to a study that shows that you made the right choice.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @12:41PM (#40310713)

    I work in drug marketing, (software dev at an ad agency) and all I can say is that my pot dealer is more ethical than a typical multinational drug company.

    If it's not illegal, they will do it. If you don't want drug companies to do something, make it illegal. Libertarian nonsense won't fix this problem any more than it helps deal with other problems.

    Drug companies have lawyers, and always seek to obey the law (and sometimes fail). They don't care about ethics. They care about the law, and perception. Their purpose is to maximize shareholder value, not do good for the world.

    As for me... yes I sold out.. no I don't care. It's a cold world.

    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@nOspAM.gmail.com> on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @01:12PM (#40311205) Journal

      I work in drug marketing, (software dev at an ad agency) and all I can say is that my pot dealer is more ethical than a typical multinational drug company.

      Well let's take a look at the relationships you propose here. Your drug dealer is a single entity, probably not making a ton of money. I mean, he's making money but he in turn pays it to the supplier and then X middle men back to whoever is growing it. It's probably not as much as a software developer. Even if he is making a lot of money, he depends on you to not rat him out to the cops. So if he starts busting your balls or raising prices and you feel like he's unfair you can just turn him over to the cops and face little or no repercussions. So he will probably be friendly, courteous and -- assuming he doesn't mix business with pleasure -- have his shit together enough to accommodate your emergency needs. He/She is the interface to your whole pot experience and has reason to make sure personally that you are a very happy camper.

      Let's look at a multinational drug company. They have infinite resources, they have infinite lawyers, they will sue you on a whim, they will sue you if voice concern. They are faceless, they never meet you, they actually abuse a broken system to interface with you (HMOs and prescriptions). They operate "within the law" (like you said if it isn't illegal they'll do it) so you have no leverage on them if your relationship goes sour. In fact, if your relationship goes sour your goose is pretty much cooked. Oh, and if you manage to threaten their infinite capital, they have ways of generating more of it. When they fight amongst themselves, people die. That's how powerful they are ... when someone wants to license a patented drug in India and Pfizer wants $200 per dosage and that means that Indian patients can't get the super expensive research compounds, people die. And when an Indian firm just makes a generic version of it, they've basically painted a target on their back for international IP laws. When something does go wrong that they are indeed liable for, you are clumped into a class action lawsuit with no voice ... you have the option to opt out of the class action lawsuit (which I think are opt in by default) but to do so would mean going toe to toe with your personal resources and lawyers against their infinite sums of both. Tell me, what incentive do they have to even give a shit about you? And you, Anonymous Coward, you are doubly F'd in the A because you work for one, so that's just more leverage they hold over your head.

      And I'm supposed to be surprised that your pot dealer is more ethical and humane than big pharma? He'd have to develop some pretty complicated drugs and then go on a rampage of carnage and bloodshed and looting to come close.

      As for me... yes I sold out.. no I don't care. It's a cold world.

      Listen, from various points of view, everyone has sold out. You live in a capitalistic society and in your employment respect you cannot hold yourself to higher standards than that unless you're okay with living on the street. And nobody should blame you for putting good food in your mouth and living in the best place you can afford. Capitalism's the name of the game and if you don't play it right, you get screwed over. So just suck it up and embrace it, I have. Might make us hypocrites but it doesn't invalidate our logic.

      • by shentino (1139071) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @01:41PM (#40311677)

        You can't play the game unless you're rich enough to begin with to buy politicians off.

        Because the moment you step on the field you are a target and the elite have the referees on their own payroll.

      • Of course you have to compromise, and do things you believe are wrong. But to be worthy of any honest self-respect, you've still got to draw the line somewhere, make whatever kind of stand you're able to. In the long run people doing that is what keeps us from absolute barbarism. If you sold out for a bigger house or an earlier retirement when you didn't have to, then you're one of the people that made this shithole a shithole when it could have been a bit better. In that case its a cop-out to blame 'so

    • I really appreciate your comment, but I cringe at the "maximize shareholder value" meme.

      The top 1% of the country owns WAY more than 50% of the stocks. The biggest shareholders are the CEO/executive class themselves. When you say "maximize shareholder value" it implies that they are doing it for "everyone" (or the 401k, normal investor, index fund investor) and I think the it's misleading. At the end of the day they are doing it for themselves and its just another selfish motive.

      We also treat the "shareh

    • Look no farther than the dearth of actual, fucking, take once and done *CURES*. Oh, but plenty of life-long maintenance drugs for profit lock-in, yessiree bob.
    • by shentino (1139071)

      They don't care about laws they can get away with breaking, and I think it's blatant false advertizing to manipulate after market studies.

    • If you don't want drug companies to do something, make it illegal. Libertarian nonsense won't fix this problem any more than it helps deal with other problems.

      It seems to me that you're only interested in treating the symptoms of the problem, which really isn't that surprising since you work in the pharmaceutical industry.

  • by TimHunter (174406) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @12:42PM (#40310725)

    So, some international drug companies are lying about science just to make a profit while callously risking millions of people's heath as a consequence? What's that to me?

    Do you really expect me get upset about this when Apple's new MacBook Pro is expensive and impossible to repair? It's APPLE, for cryin' out loud.

    I think /. needs to get some perspective!

  • Duh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @12:51PM (#40310871) Journal

    This is what happens in for-profit research. And for that matter, if you need results to get the next grant, then you're effectively doing for-profit research. The whole practice of science, private and public is essentially profit driven. Until we start rewarding scientists for negative results as well as we do positive results, we're going to see a lot of faulty positive data published. This is why most major published results in cancer science can't be replicated, for instance.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      no.

      This is what happen at ad companies... with ANY product.

      "The whole practice of science, private and public is essentially profit driven."
      only for an extremely liberal definition of 'profit'.

      "Until we start rewarding scientists for negative results as well as we do positive results,"
      science does something even better. It rewards people for finding provable fault in others work.

      "we're going to see a lot of faulty positive data published"
      of course. IT's to be expected. It would surprise you if you bothered

      • by Hatta (162192)

        Don't be obtuse. If this were expected, Nature wouldn't have published the story. There are serious architectural problems with the way we do science. We'd do well to discuss them frankly.

  • by bergelin (1320345) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @12:52PM (#40310883)
    They marketed a drug called Victoza before recieving authorization to market it [pmcpa.org.uk] several times, and "making claims and comparisons that were misleading, disguising promotional material and failing to provide information which reflected available evidence".
    • by Rich0 (548339)

      All true, and I wish we could rid drug companies of these parasites running the show...

      However, I know somebody who has benefitted tremendously from Victoza. I think it is also an example of why we shouldn't be so afraid of "me-too" drugs - in this case Victoza is only somewhat better than Byetta, but somebody I know could not tolerate Byetta yet did great on Victoza.

      While expensive, for the first time my friend was able to get their A1Cs down to around 7 from above 10, and considering they've already spen

  • by amoeba1911 (978485) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @12:57PM (#40310951) Homepage

    The whole point of the field of statistics is to keep changing your models until you find one that shows the result you want. Why else do you think there are more than a dozen different normalization tests?

    • Why else do you think there are more than a dozen different normalization tests?

      Multiple choice tests?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by neurophil12 (1054552)
      It's hard to tell when someone is just expressing a cynical sentiment and when someone is being completely serious. I do take issue though when people suggest that statistics are lies, largely because I think many people get to thinking that all statistics are meaningless. Statistics are meaningful when properly applied. Statistics are complicated and there are many models because the world is complicated. Different tests are better in different situations, depending on for instance how much you want to tra
  • 'We occasionally resorted to "playing" with the data that had originally failed to show the expected result,' he says.

    So, what you're saying is you're from the marketing division?

  • by NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @01:01PM (#40311013)
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    Ask your doctor if Hypoxia(TM) is right for you!!
  • by Brewster Jennings (2642639) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @01:08PM (#40311123)
    I worked as a news producer in medium and large DMAs (Designated Market Areas -- usually, a single city and its suburbs) for ten years, and was the field producer for a health segment with a local physician.

    Every week, we'd get news stories based on "studies": coffee is good for you, bananas are good for you, aspirin is good for, etc.

    The coffee study was invariably done by retailers or growers of coffee, the same for bananas, aspirin, etc. The problem about medicine and pharmacology (or science in general, for that matter) is that you almost never get a zero-one phenomenon, and correlation does not necessarily equal causation. These ambiguities present a very large 'gray area' for the people doing these studies, unfortunately.

    Add to that the fact the groups comissioning the research are going to censor out anything negative about their products, and you get an extremely unreliable information product. Trust me when I say that the husk of what remains of modern traditional journalism has neither the time, the resources, nor the inclination.

    The only solution I see to this problem is for users to keep the same jaded cynicism that they should probably have for any media product, or to advocate better government regulation to separate real research from junk science.

  • by ThatsNotPudding (1045640) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @01:26PM (#40311433)
    They're all the same.
  • by catmistake (814204) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @01:30PM (#40311505) Journal

    unable to work out who the writer was but they likely worked on diabetes

    I realize that insulin is a huge cash cow for Big Pharma in the US, but hopefully they are not so brazen as to actively lobby the FDA to attempt to prevent the cure [canada.com] (discovered 6 years ago) from reaching the millions suffering from this disease. Suspiciously, I haven't seen any major US news outlets reporting on this interesting and insanely good news for those that suffer from the disease.

    • by dorpus (636554)

      Any number of scientists have claimed miracle cures in the past. The work will need to be replicated to establish credibility.

      Additionally, mice are a poor model organism for studying obesity. Their fat metabolism is quite different from humans. They have given false hopes before to a "cure" for obesity via leptin.

      • Any number of scientists have claimed miracle cures in the past. The work will need to be replicated to establish credibility.

        Additionally, mice are a poor model organism for studying obesity. Their fat metabolism is quite different from humans. They have given false hopes before to a "cure" for obesity via leptin.

        Point well made. A scientifically replicatable cure for diabetes, and any sort of claimed breakthrough in medicine, is completely unnewsworthy, and the major news outlets in the US are correct to ignore it. Speaking for mice used in medical experiments everywhere, "let my people go."

    • I call BS. This so-called 'cure' is at best a treatment.

      http://jim.nord.univ-mrs.fr/IMG/pdf/TRPV1_revue-2.pdf [univ-mrs.fr]

  • Coercion, by Douglas Rushkoff
    http://www.rushkoff.com/coercion/ [rushkoff.com]

    Trust Us, We're Experts, by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber
    http://www.prwatch.org/books/experts.html [prwatch.org]
  • by dorpus (636554)

    I was at a big medical society meeting, where they gave free silver-platter dinners to people who attended "scientific" talks by drug companies about their product. (Of course, everyone knew it was just propaganda BS; they were just there for the free meal.) The speaker gave glowing reviews to sibutramine, which the FDA had just withdrawn from the market that day. I pointed this out during the Q&A session, and the speaker was not aware of this and made quite a fool of herself.

  • In one of the new stories up the front page a bit, there's a posted comment by someone who claims hearing aids are so very expensive because of all those damn pesky and unreasonable regulations his company has to follow.

    $DEITY forbid the drug industry in the US ever gets deregulated. It's bad enough already with all the ads on television and radio for new pills everyone should "ask your doctor" about.

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