Truth, Fiction, and Wrongdoing in the Pharma Industry

Last night I finally watched The Constant Gardner, the movie (based on John LeCarre’s novel) about murder and intrigue in the pharmaceutical industry.

After watching the movie, I thought maybe I’d blog about the (dis)similarities between truth & fiction, and how it is that an industry dedicated to saving & improving lives has become a plausible cinematic boogie-man (sort of a latter-day replacement for the once omnipresent Russian or East German bad-guys).

Then I found out today (thanks to The AJOB Blog) about the pharma story that won the 2005 George Polk Award for Health Reporting. Unlike in LeCarre’s yarn, no one gets hacked to pieces with a machete in this story; but it’s not a happy story, regardless. So, for today’s blog entry, why rely on fiction to inspire righteous indignation, when the truth will do?

Art Caplan at the Bioethics blog calls it a story about bioethics. I’d call it a story about corporate ethics. Either way, it’s shocking.

“Drug Industry Human Testing Masks Death, Injury, Compliant FDA,” was reported by Dave Evans, Liz Willen and Mike Smith. Their article documents injuries and deaths of participants in clinical trials conducted on behalf of various pharmaceutical companies throughout the U.S.

Here are the first few paragraphs:

Oscar Cabanerio has been waiting in an experimental drug testing center in Miami since 7:30 a.m. The 41- year-old undocumented immigrant says he’s desperate for cash to send his wife and four children in Venezuela.

More than 70 people have crowded into reception rooms furnished with rows of attached blue plastic seats. Cabanerio is one of many regulars who gather at SFBC International Inc.’s test center, which, with 675 beds, is the largest for-profit drug trial site in North America.

Across the U.S., 3.7 million people have enrolled in drug tests sponsored by the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. The companies have outsourced 75 percent of experimental drug trials to centers like SFBC, a leader in a $14 billion industry.

At the same time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has farmed out much of the responsibility for overseeing safety in these tests to private companies known as institutional review boards. These boards are also financed by pharmaceutical companies.

So, the drug industry is paying the people who do the tests — and most of the people who regulate those tests. And that combination can be dangerous, and sometimes deadly.

1 comment so far

  1. […] extent, that’s for good reasons. (I’ve blogged about some of those reasons here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here, just to cite a few examples. See also some of the entries on the […]

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