Conspiracy theories abound and in a recent blog, I made reference to an entity called Big Pharma. I suggested that there is a common perception that commercial interests within the pharmaceutical industry obstruct serious research on how to heal cancer naturally.
Rightly or wrongly, perception is often perceived as reality, and with cancer becoming an ever increasing concern, there is a clear conflict between two schools of thought. On the one side, we have the sceptics who dismiss the validity of natural healing since there is limited objective evidence to support the actual quality, safety, and efficacy of such methods. On the other side, we have the practitioners of natural healing and members of the public who are increasingly suspicious of the corporate entities that control the pharmaceutical industry.
So why has this disagreement becomes so manifest and on what basis does the conspiracy theory continue to persist?
Definition of Big Pharma
Searching the internet for a definition of Big Pharma, reveals a number of online dictionaries, all of them having similar definitions.
Essentially Big Pharma is a contemptuous term that portrays the pharmaceutical industry as an evil entity having undue influence over governments, corporations, regulating bodies, and key medical personnel within the medical industry.
This influence is used to drive the expansion of markets and to promote medicalisation of the masses; the key beneficiaries of course being the pharmaceutical corporations.
Origin and Basis of the Term Big Pharma
The term was apparently first used in June 1994 in reaction to reported excessive spending by the pharmaceutical giants at that time on questionable research that produced only marginal results; the amount in question, around USD25 billion.
In later years, approval or obstruction of legislation related to prescription medicines, generic medicines, control of import/export, and so on, has appeared on many occasions to have been either stonewalled or approved, through political bias, predominantly to the advantage of the pharmaceutical corporate engine.
Such instances of manipulation have not gone unnoticed by the press and are quickly highlighted to the public. Typically, news reports have bought to the public attention the following:
- Practice of unethical and fraudulent clinical trials.
- Legislation preventing negotiation of drug prices.
- Use of drugs before proper diagnosis of illnesses.
- Manipulation of doctors and physicians to sell specific premier branded drugs.
- Claims that those same medical professionals are accepting gifts, incentives and other inducements.
- Opining that Big Pharma is nothing more than an unorganised crime syndicate holding the world to ransom.
Many of these reports are not without substantiation. In 2016, a ProPublica analysis found that physicians who received payments from drug and medical device companies were significantly more likely to prescribe high-cost branded medications.
The Washington Post recently carried an opinion that the pharmaceutical industry specifically targeted healthcare professionals spending more than 8x the amount they had used for marketing to consumers. In fact, 9 out of 10 pharmaceutical companies spend much more on marketing than they do on actual research and development, more than double in the case of Johnson & Johnson which in 2013, was purported to have spent USD17.5 billion on marketing compared to its R&D which utilised a mere USD8.2 billion.
But even the R&D is flawed in many cases. Skewed data, poor record keeping, even falsification of reports, are just a few of the anomalies that have been found by FDA audits. And yet, rarely, if at all, are these errors corrected or retracted in subsequent publications or peer-reviewed literature. This is problematic because at the end of the day it is these journals and reports that our local doctors rely on to determine the efficacy of new drugs on the market.
The extent to which Big Pharma will go to protect its market was more recently demonstrated when it spent more than USD100 million in its campaign to defeat Proposition 61 in California. Had the California Drug Price Relief Act been passed, all prescription drugs purchased by the State of California would have been price-capped to be at or below the price paid for the same drug by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Again, in the UK, in July 2017, the National Health Service finds itself being sued by Big Pharma for an earlier decision to cap prices for purchased drugs. The NHS is reported to be rejecting around 30% of of all new cancer drugs as skyrocketing prices extend far beyond its annual budget and in some cases leading to the rationing of some treatments.
The extent of influence that Big Pharma has, the ever increasing astronomical prices for prescription drugs, and its topping the Forbes list as one of the most profitable industries today, it’s unlikely that the negative perception of the industry as a ruthless, cunning, money-making machine is going away anytime soon.
Is it any wonder that Senator Bernie Sanders in the US recently made a comment, “The reality today is that the pharmaceutical industry has become a major health hazard to the American people.”
Changes are Coming
Before we start condemning our local doctors and physicians, we should recognise and give credit to the growing number of the medical profession that are indeed trying to make a stand against ‘Big Pharma‘.
The tide would appear to be turning and an increasing number of clinics and teaching hospitals have started to restrict and even ban visits by ‘Big Pharma‘ marketing representatives.
This trend is supported by a recent study published on the JAMA Network (Journals of the American Medical Association) website that found that in hospitals where policies restrict visits and gifts from ‘Big Pharma‘ marketing representatives, physicians tend to prescribe the more cost-effective generic versions of medicines rather than the top branded drugs. On the political front, the Californian even passed a bill in April 2017 that bans drug companies from giving gifts to doctors.
These are all steps in the right direction and at least and affords the opportunity for patients to opt for more economical medicines rather than foregoing treatment altogether due to exhorbitantly high costs.
But is it enough? To bring about real change, Big Pharma‘s greed needs to be curtailed. The excessive amount of spending on marketing should be reduced and instead readdressed to focus on serious research and development, particularly with respect to natural alternatives. This would then develop a significant body of knowledge to be transferred to the medical educational institutes giving doctors an all round knowledge and awareness of the potential for natural healing. Failing that, I encourage all sincere doctors and physicians to do their own research, there is an abundance of information out there.
Until such changes take place, the only losers are the patients.