Medicine in general – and the pharmaceutical industry in particular – live for the ‘next best thing’, the breakthrough discovery that will change the course of a disease.
Take, for instance, a monoclonal antibody drug called Antegren (natalizumab). Two studies that appear in the same issue of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine show that Antegren can improve the quality of life for sufferers of acute Crohn’s disease, and could also help prevent multiple sclerosis patients from relapsing.
Marvellous news, and any progress in defeating these debilitating, and pernicious, diseases, has to be welcomed.
Not surprisingly, the Web quickly latched onto the findings, and page after page, and in a variety of languages, started to appear. The manufacturers, Elan Corporation and Biogen Inc., listed respectively on the New York stock exchange and NASDAQ, were quick to issue a triumphal press release. Their share prices no doubt followed suit.
Even our own National Health Service got in on the act, but in so doing had to break the bad news to its English readers that the drug is still in clinical trials and would not be available in the UK for at least another year.
All this brou-ha-ha suggests that nobody’s reading the small print. If they did, they would have read that Elan and Biogen paid for both studies. In the multiple sclerosis trial, seven of the 10 researchers also received payments and grant support from the manufacturers, and, in the Crohn’s study, two researchers received payment from the manufacturers, and one of whom also owns shares in Elan. Furthermore, two other researchers are also employees of Elan.
Does this invalidate the findings? Not necessarily. Are we suggesting that some of the researchers have been influenced by their relationships with the manufacturers? Again, not necessarily. But we do believe that everyone should be told. Don’t you? (Source: New England Journal of Medicine, 2003;348: 15-23 & 24-32).