Dancing In The Dark: How patents make drugs the perfect objects of desire

September, 24, 2012 | 2 Comments


  1. “… the ability to make so much money put a premium on drugs that could be marketed to the widest number of people rather than a premium on drugs that were effective for diseases that needed cures.”

    This game of “expanding indications” is both profitable and dangerous. Not long ago I was amazed to open the Chicago Reader – a paper focused on rock concerts and trendy food – and find ads for Abbott’s injectable arthritis drug Humira. One featured a young guy who was frustrated because his ulcerative colitis kept him from eating whatever he wanted in restaurants. In the other, a young woman fretted because unsightly psoriasis on her shoulders meant she couldn’t wear the latest summer dresses.

    Now, this is a Tumor Necrosis Factor blocker – a drug that carries a small but very real risk of cancer and life-threatening infections. Why in hell’s name would anyone take such risks for the sake of eating guacamole or looking good in a sundress? They probably wouldn’t – not knowingly.

    But in order for a (very expensive) drug like Humira to be a blockbuster, Abbott must expand its use to people who don’t need it and face unacceptable risks in taking it. I’m sure there are many people whose arthritis is so crippling, and so nonresponsive to other treatments, that Humira is worth the risk. But as for ulcerative colitis, the FDA is now questioning if it does much at all for that condition.

    So now my local rock station is running an ad urging guys with nagging backaches, who may think they’ve just been pushing it a bit too hard at the gym, to ask their doctor if it could be … Ankylosing Spondylitis! Really. No mention of a drug – but a quick Google of “spondylitis and ask your doctor” led me straight to http://www.faceyourbackpain.com/, sponsored by Abbott, where you can enter your zip code and find a “good” rheumatologist (needle at the ready?). It’s downright scary.

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