Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Life Imitates Art

The Washington Post has a headline ripped from the plot of The Constant Gardener: Pfizer, purveyor of life-saving medical therapies, tested an unregistered antibiotic in Nigeria back in the '90s without so much as telling the unsuspecting patients, and although they have been trying to deny the dirty truth of their little trial since at least 2001, but lawyers for the families of the test subjects finally found the company's reports. The drug, trovafloxacin, was briefly available in the US but later restricted from most uses due to liver toxicity, but it is worth noting that none of the drugs in its class are used in children because of reports of damage to growing cartilage. So Pfizer's notion that they were providing the drug as a humanitarian effort to ease an epidemic at the time is completely bogus, even if they could explain why their "humanitarian effort" ended before the epidemic.

What's more, according to the 2001 BBC article (above), the control group in this study received half the usual dose of a competing drug, and six of them died as a result of being insufficiently treated. Aside from the inhumanity of it all, such crappy scientific methodology takes the air out of Pfizer's argument that the high cost of drugs is because of the cost of the research involved in bringing a new drug to market, since they are not only morally degenerate but also cheap and sloppy when it comes to testing their drugs.

In all, a panel of Nigerian doctors figures that Pfizer violated Nigerian law, the international Declaration of Helsinki that governs ethical medical research, and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. We figure that the punishment for these crimes will amount to exactly nothing.

The guys at Ars Technica brought up the idea of boycotting drug cos for this kind of behavior, but 1) Pfizer, in addition to its stable of "me-too" drugs with sketchy profiles like this, has a number of drugs with proven safety and efficacy, and 2) all the other drug cos have similar records, and you gotta go somewhere to get better. We'd like to see their patents revoked, so that their drugs would go generic, effectively taking away the exclusive power over these drugs that they have demonstrated they are not qualified to wield.

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