Latest Drugwonks' Blog

Pharma's Big Blues

  • 03.27.2006

Caroline Kovac (IBM’s Princess of Prescience) on what Big Pharma can learn from Big Blue:

“Replace the word blockbuster with mainframe and then we can talk.”

Bonjour Amigo

  • 03.27.2006

Nope, not a mixed metaphor. I just returned from Brussels where I spoke on what the Europeans call “information to patients” or “ItP” (what we heathens on this side of the Atlantic refer to as “direct to patient communications”). The event was at the Amigo Hotel. (For you trivia buffs, this hotel used to be a prison — and one of its most famous guests was Karl Marx.)

I spoke on the American experience with DTC advertising (both the pros and the problems) and my fellow panelist, James Copping, talked about how the EU is trying to figure out what to do next, since “not American-style drug advertising” is not a go-forward policy. Jim’s a player. He’s the Principal Administrator for the EU’s Enterprise and Industry Directorate-General, the body drafting the EU’s go-forward recommendations.

One interchange between Jim and me that is worth sharing:

COPPING: “We must find new ways to regulate health care information to patients.”

PITTS: “Jim, I think a better way to frame the question is to say that you need to find new ways to facilitate health care information to patients.”

COPPING: “Yes, that’s right.”

God’s speed Mr. Copping.

Here’s an exciting timely and important new paper on what antihypertensives have accomplished and what more could be accomplished if people were treated to guideline. It’s a clarion call to address our nation’s (indeed the globe’s) chronic health care problem — ignoring the urgency of focusing on chronic care.

The Impact of Antihypertensive Drugs on the Number and Risk of Death,
Stroke and Myocardial Infarction in the United States by Genia Long,
David Cutler, Ernst R. Berndt, Jimmy Royer, Andree-Anne Fournier, Alicia
Sasser, Pierre Cremieux #12096 (AG HC)


Estimating the value of medical innovation is a continual challenge.

In this research, we quantify the impact of antihypertensive therapy on U.S. blood pressures, risk and number of heart attacks, strokes, and deaths. We also consider the potential for further improvements.

We estimate the value of innovation using equations relating blood pressure to adverse outcomes from the Framingham Heart Study. Our results show that without antihypertensive therapy, 1999-2000 average blood pressure for the U.S. population age 40 plus would have been 10-13 percent higher. 86,000 excess premature deaths from cardiovascular disease (2001), and 833,000 hospital discharges for stroke and heart attacks (2002) would have occurred. Life expectancy would be 0.5 (men) and 0.4 (women) years lower. At guideline care, there would have been 89,000 fewer premature deaths (2001) and 420,000 fewer hospital discharges for stroke and heart attack (2002) than observed. Our analysis suggests that antihypertensive therapy has had a significant impact on cardiovascular health outcomes but that mortality gains would have been approximately twice as high if guideline care had been achieved for all.

Here’s the link:

New state-by-state fact sheets are now available at the Medicare Rx Education Network website.

Here’s the link:

According to Canadian law enforcement authorities, the Hell’s Angels used their Canada-wide connections to supply a major drug trafficking network that operated in the lower Laurentians. Police seized 49 kilograms of cocaine and smaller quantities of hashish and marijuana. They also found more than 136,000 Viagra pills. Other people are still being sought on warrants in the on-going investigation, dubbed Project Piranha.

I’m blogging to you from the Arizona State University conference, “Transforming American Healthcare Over the Next Decade.” Organized by ASU, the C-Path Institute (led by CMPI board member Dr. Ray Woosley) and CMPI — this event brings together many of the leading thinkers on 21st century medicine.

Here are a few snippets:

The Second Hundred Years

“When you compare what’s available today versus 100 years ago you have to wonder whether we’re not spending enough on health care.” (Senator Jon Kyl, R, AZ)

T.S. Eliot and the Critical Path

“We must transcend mindless empiricism. Today medicine is still an empirical science. We still approach it as a one-size-fits-all situation. T.S. Eliot wrote that ‘Hell is the place where nothing connects.’ We must confront the unacceptable cost of an unconnected healthcare system.” (George Poste, MD, The Biodesign Institute, ASU)

Do not take this medication if you operate heavy machinery or are African-American

“The Critical Path will lead to advances such as gene or haplotype specific labeling as well as ethnopharmacology.” (George Poste, MD)

The Problem in a Snapshot

“Are today’s pharmaceuticals the Kodak film of the Digital Age?” (Ray Woosley, MD)

An Alliterative Illustration

“21st century medicine must be patient-centric, proactive, preventive, and predictive.” (Caroline Kovac, IBM)

And in case you don’t think regulators have a sense of humor

“Relative to polymorphic metabolism, slow metabolizers are cheap dates for their healthcare providers.” (Janet Woodcock, MD, FDA Deputy Commissioner and COO)

Earth To Marcia

  • 03.23.2006

Well, so much for me-tooism. The ineffable LA Times, which actually does get things right occasionally, reports today the finding of a major government study “that at least a quarter of clinically depressed patients who failed to achieve a complete remission with one antidepressant succeeded by adding a drug or by switching drugs.”

Whoda thunk it? After all, did the Great Marcia Angell—-physician, economist, courageous siren with respect to The Truth About the Drug Companies—-not solemnly inform us awhile back that only two or three drugs in any given class are needed, and that further research and development investment in given classes is a social waste? And that the evil pharmaceutical producers are interested in profits and little else? And that advertising—-the provision of information—-is wasteful, and the the drug market simply does not work in some sense, ad infinitum? Well, yes, indeed she did. And indeed did she get virtually everything wrong in her silly book. Such are the fruits of economic analysis conducted by noneconomists with an ax to grind.

The LA Times published this latest report in the Science and Medicine section; Marcia’s “findings” were trumpeted on the front page, above the fold. But progress is to be welcomed.

I will be writing about this issue in far greater depth soon, but there seems to be a view in Beltwayland, among the suburbs of which are the NY Times and the LA Times, that drug prices ought in some sense to reflect “costs,” however defined, and that efforts by the pharmaceutical producers to establish prices for new drugs in accordance with their higher economic (or medical) value is illegitimate.

Well. Let us recognize that politics by its very nature is the art of wealth redistribution, always and everywhere, and so discussions of drug prices must proceed with that context firmly in mind. Drug development is a process of iterative investment, research, and testing; that process must appeal to the capital market (investors) in order to be viable, that is, expected returns (adjusted for risk) must justify the prospective costs of the development process for any given project. If prices reflect only costs and not value, investment streams will be reduced from levels that would prevail otherwise; and that means automatically that the future supply of new and improved medicines will be lower than in the alternative.

And so the preference for cost-based drug pricing on the part of those utterly compassionate with other people’s money in the end boils down to the argument that future patients ought to subsidize current ones. It is only a coincidence, of course, that it is the current patients who vote; thus does the wealth redistribution dynamic emerge yet again. And yet again the highminded compassion of the elites proves as phony as it is in so very many other contexts, except that a reduction in the supply of drugs means more future suffering and higher medical costs overall. Such are the outcomes yielded by the nostrums of the unthinking.

Apparently Consumers Union thinks that we should pay higher, not lower, hospital and doctor bills to prop up failing hospitals and subsidize charity care. At least that’s the rationale for the so-called consumer group which publishes price and quality ratings stereos and cars and supports price controls on prescription drugs for opposing the trend towards publishing the prices of doctor and hospital services. See for examples. Bill Vaughn who publishes Consumer Reports, the ratings guides said that ” if enough patients choose less expensive hospitals, other facilities could have trouble caring for patients who cannot pay for services, which “would further break up the social safety net.” Or the more competitive hospitals would be able to care for more patients. Or perhaps the entire system would respond to consumer demand and begin to actuallly prevent disease before it starts rather than treat it after it happens using the newer medicines whose prices Consumer Union wants government to lower. In otherwords, Consumer Union wants government to limit the freedom of people to choose the best price for hospital and physician care and to drive down the price of new medicines artificially through price controls.

Ten years ago, few people predicted the impact of the Internet or the cell phone. Today the digital revolution has transformed the way we work, live and learn. Information is being turned into knowledge literally at the speed of light. Today, we are on the verge of another revolution that will dramatically change the way we live and how well we live.

So why aren’t people paying attention?

Over the next decade, researchers will use genomics to develop many more disease-specific drugs and diagnostics to predict who will respond best and who needs a medicine most than ever before. And medical information will be used to discover the best way to care for people based upon their unique genetic and individual circumstances.

So why doesn’t the media write about it more (or more enthusiastically)?

Drug, biotech and diagnostic firms are already gathering genetic information on patients taking part in clinical trials. New technological tools are currently available or under development that will help achieve this vision. The real concern, for industry and society alike, is not that technology will not advance, but that the technology itself will not be fully used.

So why isn’t government doing something to help FDA facilitate and advance the public health?

Last week the FDA announced the next phase of the Critical Path project — and in great detail. Unfortunately the announcement was largely ignored by the media, assorted thought-leaders, and our elected representatives.

We here at will do our best to fill in the blanks, but we’d certainly appreciate some assistance from the MSM


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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