Latest Drugwonks' Blog

Here’s a link to a new paper (by me) discussing how Europe can learn from America’s DTC experiences (both positive and otherwise) to create a more robust 21st century environment for patient empowerment. My premise is that health care communication is the consumer’s Rosetta Stone.

Your thoughts and comments are much appreciated.

Such a revelation! GAO reports that the FDA can do better on post-market surveillance! The headlines and statements from Senator Grassley shout “OMG!” But those in the know remark, “Duh.” The issue, dear Senator must not begin and end with a press conference. (The headlines taste good, but 45 minutes later you’re hungry again.) The debate and road to amelioration must begin with more dollars and authority for the FDA. Senator, for the umteenth time — SHOW FDA THE MONEY!

As for Dr. Goldberg’s comments below, ditto.


  • 04.22.2006

Genetic tests that will screen people to see if they are high responders will be used in combo with proteomic or metabolomic tests to develop optimal doses and imaging markers to determine best response. Such work is already going on in cancer and with such drugs as Avastin. More on that later.

Yesterday David Brailer, who leads the nation’s health IT efforts, announced he is stepping down from that post to spend more time with his family. Brailer has spent the last two years herding cats but also championing the need to get serious about investing in all forms of health IT. He helped created a vision and a critical mass as well as — dare I use the term — a tipping point towards the development of a framework in which health information becomes an important tool for improving health and preventing disease. We should thank him for a great job and for devoting his time and energy to public service.

From the Financial Times,s01=1.html

Pee Values

  • 04.21.2006

According to the MIT Technology Review an international group of scientists has demonstrated a new tool for personalized medicine that makes it possible to predict nearly any adverse reaction an individual might have to drugs. Rather than being based on genetic screening, which up to now has been the dominant approach to personalized medicine, the new test relies on profiling an individual’s metabolic products.

Called pharmaco-metabonomics, the technique involves screening urine for metabolite: small molecules that are involved in or produced by the metabolic processes that sustain an organism.

Besides predicting adverse drug reactions, pharmaco-metabonomics also has the potential to determine more effective dose levels for each individual. “There is no genetic technique that can do that,” says Jeremy Nicholson of Imperial College London, the researcher who led the investigation.

Here’s a link to the complete article:

And Counting ...

  • 04.21.2006

On Thursday, Medicare officials released new statistics showing that 8.1 million people are now enrolled in stand-alone Medicare prescription drug plans, an increase of 1.7 million in the past four weeks. More than 30 million of the nation’s nearly 43 million Medicare recipients now receive some assistance in paying for their medications.

Mental Notes

  • 04.20.2006

“Strike up the Klezmer and start acting like a man. You’re about to have a Truth Mitzvah.” — Steven Colbert

According to a widely reported new paper, every psychiatric expert involved in writing the standard diagnostic criteria for disorders such as depression and schizophrenia has had financial ties to drug companies that sell medications for those illnesses.

Here we go again. God forbid we should have schizophrenics treated with medication.

The American Psychiatric Association, which publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), said it is planning to require disclosure of the financial ties of experts who write the next edition of the manual — due around 2011. The manual carries vast influence over the practice of psychiatry in the United States and around the world.

And that’s as it should be. Disclosure and transparency are, as Martha would say, “good things.”

John Kane, an expert on schizophrenia who worked on the last edition, commented that, “It shouldn’t be assumed there is a true conflict of interest.” Kane said the report’s conclusions were driven only by science. “To me, a conflict of interest implies that someone’s judgment is going to be influenced by this relationship, and that is not necessarily the case.”

Indeed. I guess Citizen Kane didn’t get the memo that explains why, if you are in any way associated with the pharmaceutical industry, you are guilty of crimes against humanity even if you’re innocent. And if you’re innocent you’re naive and are being used by the industry for its nefarious purposes. Witness the headline in the Washington Post, “Experts Defining Mental Disorders Are Linked to Drug Firms.” Can you say “leading the witness?”

Steven Sharfstein, president of the American Psychiatric Association, said, “I am not surprised that the key people who participate have these kinds of relationships. They are the major researchers in the field, and are very much on the cutting edge, and will have some kind of relationship — but there should be full disclosure.”

You bet. Disclosure. Disclosure. Disclosure. But here’s the question phrased differently — Why does the pharmaceutical industry only do business with the smartest minds in medicine? Answer: Because they are the smartest minds in medicine.

The analysis could not determine the extent or timing of the financial ties because it relied on disclosures in journal publications and other venues that do not mention many details, said Sheldon Krimsky, a science policy specialist at Tufts University who also was an author of the new study. Whether the researchers received money before, during or after their service on the panel did not remove the ethical concern, he said.

And, in the interest of transparency and disclosure, Mr. Krimsky is the author of the book “Science in the Private Interest,” so we certainly can guess at his general perspectives on the issue.

Should professional relationships be disclosed? Most certainly. Should the best minds in medicine be recused from sharing their wisdom? Certainly not. is pleased to be part of a blogposium on Clinical Informatics, a neighborhood of folks with a passion to advance understanding on how bioinformatics and electronic patients records can improve health care. Jack Mason is the blogposium’s chair. He can be contacted at

Yesterday the CDC reported that life expectancy rose faster and death rates declined faster last year than in the past 30 because of new medicines. This bodes well for those getting the Medicare drug benefit in record numbers. But meanwhile Families USA wants to shove seniors into a VA style plan that limits access to these new medicines. Limiting access to new drugs and keeping them off formulary is a form of rationing and way to keeping formulary closed, ,which itself is a bargaining tool for driving down drug costs. In fact a study by Columbia University’s Frank Lichtenberg shows that the VA drug lag has actually increased death rates and reduced life expectancy among seniors. This is what is going on in the UK by the way where breakthrough by breakthrough the government is finding ways to say no to drugs for cancer, Alzheimer’s, MS and diabetes that increase life expectancy and quality of wellbeing. The justification of the VA and UK are similarly and depressingly striking. Actually studies show that limiting access drives up total costs and makes seniors sicker. Why would Families USA want that? Perhaps their hatred of drug companies outweighs their concern for the lives of seniors. Ron “The Godfather” Pollack the Don of Families USA wants everyone to believe that the VA just hands the off formulary medicines like candy after a friendly sort of negotation. Not so. Even the non-formulary drugs have to be discounted by at least 40 percent or you can’t get them. Getting on the formulary costs even more. So if you are biotech company that makes no money what incentive do you have to even try? No wonder the VA drug lag is growing and seniors are suffering as a result. Imagine if this little drill was applied to Medicare as a whole just like the Godfather wants?

Kiss me Kate

  • 04.19.2006

Yesterday the UK’s National Institute of Clinical Excellence (which goes by its Orwellian acronym of NICE) rejected Exubera (inhaled insulin) for NHS use on the grounds that the drug isn’t “cost-effective.” That means they don’t want to pay for it — not because it doesn’t work or it isn’t an advance — but because, well, they just don’t want to pay the additional 10 pounds (about $17.83) per week for those patients who would prefer inhaling rather than injecting their insulin. NICE’s dismissal of resultant savings from enhanced compliance and decreased complications? Total.

Dr. Kate Lloyd, the UK medical director for Pfizer (Exubera is a Pfizer product) called the decision “perverse and short-sighted.” It’s refreshing to hear such a clear and unambiguous shot across the bow from a pharmaceutical company.

Kiss me Kate.

Not surprisingly Diabetes UK (the largest diabetes patient organization in Britain) is — no pun intended — up in arms. Says Simon O’Neill, their director of care and policy, “The government has put patient choice on the NHS agenda. Diabetes UK is disappointed that the (NICE) guidance on inhaled insulin does not reflect this as we believe it could offer an alternative treatment in improving the lives of some people with diabetes.”

To which Dr. Andrea Sutcliffe (NICE’s deputy chief executive) responds, “The clinical experts we asked advised us that using injected insulin is not usually a concern for the majority of people with diabetes.”

Well … what about a sizable minority? Once again we witness the victory of equality vs. quality — the hallmark of government-sponsored “universal health care.” If you believe in cost-based medicine (referred to most commonly in the US by the equally Orwellian moniker of “evidence-based medicine”), then this is what you get. And you better get used to it … or get involved in the debate.

Prime Minister Blair admits that Britain’s health care is at a “crunch point,” but insists that the UK is still on an historic “end to traditional waiting” by 2008.

Makes sense to me. Disallow all new treatments and I too would predict an historic end to waiting — as well as a permanent end to quality health care.

Let’s not allow what’s going on “over there” go unrecognized over here.


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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