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Medicine

New Drugs Trail Many Old Ones In Effectiveness Against Disease 230

Posted by Soulskill
from the peak-pharma dept.
Lasrick tips this report from Reuters: "Despite the more than $50 billion that U.S. pharmaceutical companies have spent every year since the mid-2000s to discover new medications, drugmakers have barely improved on old standbys developed decades ago. Research published on Monday showed that the effectiveness of new drugs, as measured by comparing the response of patients on those treatments to those taking a placebo, has plummeted since the 1970s. 'While experts agree that tougher trials and similar factors explain some of the decline in drugs' reported effectiveness, something real is going on here,' said Olfson. 'Physicians keep saying that many of the new things just aren't working as well,' and therefore prescribe antidepressant drugs called tricyclics (developed in the 1950s) instead of SSRIs (from the 1980s), or diuretics (invented in the 1920s) for high blood pressure instead of newer anti-hypertensives.'"
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New Drugs Trail Many Old Ones In Effectiveness Against Disease

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  • Old business ideas (Score:5, Insightful)

    by erroneus (253617) on Wednesday June 05, 2013 @06:53AM (#43912825) Homepage

    1. Can't make any money unless you hold patents (monopoly) and can charge any price you want even [especially] at the expense of loss of life for those who cannot afford it. (They are just dying to get a new drug!)
    2. People won't buy your crap unless it has the word "new" on the label. (Microsoft has driven that notion out of us over the past few years though)

    Real breakthroughs and discoveries are rare. It seems a month doesn't go by without my hearing some new kind of benefit of using aspirin or acetaminophen.

    What really needs to happen:

    1. People need to be more careful about their use of drugs -- a body less accustomed to drugs in it shows a better response to drugs when they are needed.
    2. People need to be more careful about how they live their lives and to take responsibility for their bodies. I could go on forever about that.
    3. More work needs to be done to discover the causes of the maladies plaguing our modern world. We already understand that lots of the cause IS our modern world, but no one wants to talk about it because we might have to give something up.

    There's less or no money in any of these ideas. Consequently, it won't happen.

  • by gallondr00nk (868673) on Wednesday June 05, 2013 @07:04AM (#43912887)

    This doesn't really address the whole issue, but remember that the war on drugs has stopped scientists from being able to conduct research for decades. LSD and Ecstasy both had incredibly promising properties in treating some illnesses, especially in the area of mental health. This was until research was banned by governments around the world. I wonder what sort of illnesses, diseases and conditions we'd have cured today if they hadn't banned it.

    It pays to remember that through drug prohibition governments are not just waging a war against the individual's rights, but waging a war against scientific research.

  • by Telecommando (513768) on Wednesday June 05, 2013 @07:05AM (#43912889)

    Perhaps the older drugs were manufactured for maximum effectiveness and the newer ones for maximum profit.

  • So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by swamp_ig (466489) on Wednesday June 05, 2013 @07:08AM (#43912905)

    So what?

    Sure the old drugs are great, but there's plenty of new ones that are great too.

    Take statins for example - relatively new class of medication that have dramatically changed the treatment of high cholesterol - which leads to the number one killer of heart disease. Another example - artemisinin - great treatment for malaria, relatively recent invention.

    Not to mention the survivorship bias http://youarenotsosmart.com/2013/05/23/survivorship-bias/ [youarenotsosmart.com] - there's heaps of old drugs that just aren't used anymore because frankly they were no good and had a ton of side effects. You don't hear about those ones much simply because they aren't used. This gives the perception that 'the old drugs are better' when in truth they were just as bad or worse, and only the good ones have stood the test of time.

    But even if it were true - should we then give up drug discovery? Give up the chance to find the next great drug just because the low hanging fruit are already taken? What exactly is the solution to this?

  • More difficult now (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 05, 2013 @07:54AM (#43913137)

    Several reasons for this:

    1. Patent Law - Because all most all of the simple compounds have been patented, with the patent already expired, New drugs have to get more and more complicated in order to guarantee gaining a patent. More complicated means more expensive, but not necessarily more effective.

    2. Increased safety - The requirements to get a drug on the market keep getting tougher and tougher. Almost everyone in the industry agrees that if aspirin was developed today, it would be a coin flip as to whether it would gain approval. (And certainly wouldn't be available OTC.)

    3. Laziness - Many new drugs are just minor modifications of existing drugs made to get around patents. This is unlikely to provide any benefit to patients other than breaking the other company's monopoly. See Viagra vs Levitra: they are effectively identical.

    4. Increased difficulty in animal testing - Years ago you could do anything to mice/rats, and the ethics committees only cared about larger animals. Now you have to argue in front of a panel that there is no way an animal could suffer as a result of your testing. I am talking about mice that are going to be killed at the end of the month anyway. And don't even think about using the word LD50: you will be looking for a new facility to do testing for you. This forces more testing back into the test tube, and in vitro environments are different enough from a real body that it is common to see something that works in a test tube to not work in a mouse, and vice versa.

    5. Current failure of computer modeling: A lot of research money has moved from trial/error research by chemists to using software to model binding sites of proteins and trying to compute structures that may fit. While this may one day work, I know of no drug on the market or in clinical trails that was developed using computational chemistry as a primary tool. Note: Computational chemistry has brought some good things with it - see Lipinski's Rule of 5, but that was the result of a statistical analysis rather than modeling.

    Yes, I am a medicinal chemist.

  • Re:True True (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SharpFang (651121) on Wednesday June 05, 2013 @08:03AM (#43913181) Homepage Journal

    Moreover: Promote new, weaker drug. Still keep selling the old, efficient drug.
    People buy the new drug. They find it's inefficient. They switch to old drug.
    Two packages sold instead of one.

  • by RabidReindeer (2625839) on Wednesday June 05, 2013 @08:10AM (#43913223)

    Perhaps the older drugs were manufactured for maximum effectiveness and the newer ones for maximum profit.

    Close, perhaps. Cynical, certainly.

    A lot of the older drugs were discovered more or less accidentally. Mostly because their effects were anything but subtle.

    Unfortunately, so were the side-effects.

    There are perfectly good humanitarian reasons for chasing new drugs.

    First of all, drugs have varying effects depending on the patient. So the "go to" drug might not effectively - if at all - on some people. Or even harm them.

    Secondly, the side-effects of the drugs may be prohibitive for some people.

    So there's definitely a demand for drugs that are more finely-targeted than the original sledgehammer medications. Problem is, the more precise the solution, the more likely that the number of people it works effectively for is going to be very small. And, on top of that, the objectionable features become more objectionable, relatively speaking.

    That's aside, of course from the all-too-common situation where the business decision is made to push a drug even when it's more of a medical liability than an asset just because it's more of a (potential) financial asset than a liability.

  • Re:True True (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hedwards (940851) on Wednesday June 05, 2013 @09:19AM (#43913765)

    I'm not a fan of big Pharma, but this is horseshit.

    Tricyclics are substantially more dangerous than the newer generation of medications, sure you can OD on any of the psych medications, but the newer medications tend to be more narrowly focused than the old ones. Have you ever looked at the listing of things to avoid when it comes to MAO inhibitors?

    A lot of the problem with the newer medications is that since they target smaller parts of the brain, it's less likely that any one medication will work properly, but it also means that it's less likely that it will interact with some other medication. For instance you can't take Prozac or Paxil if you're taking stimulant medication for ADHD because they use the same channels in the liver, IIRC.

    Ultimately, this is not likely to be a problem in the near future as brain imaging scans to see what exactly is going on in the brain become more prevalent and there's more formal testing of what the medicine is actually doing. At present there's very little attention paid to how much of the medication actually gets to the site where it's needed. Something as simple as an undiagnosed food allergy can result in little or none of the medication making it to the brain. Which also effects how much seratonin, dopamine and the rest are there for the medications to work with.

  • by davester666 (731373) on Wednesday June 05, 2013 @01:47PM (#43916311) Journal

    Old drugs = not covered by patents anymore = hard to jack up the price
    new drugs = covered by patents = can charge an arm and two legs for them

    Course, now they've figured out to just limit supply for common diseases and then let everyone bid for what little they make.

    Sort of like the electricity "market".

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