Drug companies have been accused of conning the public by hyping up patented medicines with little new to offer while downplaying their side-effects.
An estimated 85% of new drugs offer few if any new benefits while having the potential to cause serious harm due to toxicity or misuse, a study has concluded.
The author of the research delivered a damning attack on “Big Pharma” at a meeting of sociology experts in the US.
Professor Donald Light described the pharmaceutical industry as a “market for lemons” – one in which the seller knows much more than the buyer about the product, and takes advantage of this fact.
“Sometimes drug companies hide or downplay information about serious side-effects of new drugs and overstate the drugs’ benefits,” said Prof Light, a professor of comparative health policy at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey, US.
“Then, they spend two to three times more on marketing than on research to persuade doctors to prescribe these new drugs. Doctors may get misleading information and then misinform patients about the risks of a new drug. It’s really a two-tier market for lemons.”
He alleged that the pharmaceutical industry owned companies in charge of drug testing and provided “firewalls” of legal protection behind which information about dangers or lack of effectiveness could be be hidden.
Companies were assisted by the “relatively low bar” for effectiveness that had to be crossed to get a new drug approved, he claimed.
Prof Light presented his paper, entitled “Pharmaceuticals: A Two-Tier Market for Producing ‘Lemons’ and Serious Harm” at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.
The study includes data gathered from independent reviewers which suggest that 85% of new drugs provide few, if any, new benefits.