No Soap

  • by: |
  • 06/18/2007
In the movie “Marathon Man,” Lawrence Olivier’s Mengele-inspired dentist threateningly asks, “Is it safe?” That same question, as Congress debates PDUFA reauthorization and FDA reform, has the real threat of crippling medical progress and the freedom physicians have in deciding which treatments are best for their patients. These are frightening thoughts — and attention must be paid lest we find ourselves, micron-by-micron, abdicating the hope of 21st century medicine to politically expedient measures that serve only to further the political aspirations of sound-bite hungry politicians and the voracious appetites of trial lawyers.

In today’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, Scott Gottlieb addresses the fact that …

“A decade ago, we were mostly focused on uncovering the remote risk that certain drugs could, in rare cases, cause immediate, unexpected and potentially life-threatening problems such as liver damage or disturbed heart rhythms. Surfacing these problems was made easier by the fact that the side effects occurred in close proximity to administration of the medicine, so it could be deduced when the drug was at fault.

Now we're focused on unearthing cases where prolonged use of some drugs may prompt small elevations in the risk of otherwise naturally occurring and even common events, like heart attacks. This was the issue that caused the withdrawal of the painkiller Vioxx and the premature flap around the diabetes drug Avandia.

Our heightened vigilance will surely improve the information people have to make informed choices. But finding and proving these kinds of rare and latent problems will often take many years and entail large and rigorous clinical testing. Even then, deciding if such remote kinds of risk outweigh benefits requires an often subjective calculus that is best left for patients and doctors to decide individually.

In short, rhetoric and politics, and now actual legislation in the form of REMS, are forcing the FDA ever more towards adopting the Precautionary Principle. That’s the one-dimensional dogma that dictates that nothing should be done until everything is understood. Prudent? No, puerile. And the unintended consequences are fatal. Fatal like in no new medicines.

A little harmless politicking? Hardly. Just ask the people who may soon longer have access to the medicines they need, or to those who will suffer needlessly in the wake of Tropical Storm Safety — since the inevitable result of the Precautionary Principle is a dearth of new medicines in the pipeline.

Is it time to recall Ivory Soap? Is it safe? After all, it’s only 99 44/100% pure.

We must not allow safety to be hijacked.

Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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