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Why Everyone Loves Us

A New Book on the Drug Industry And Its Image

John LaMattina (ex-head of Pfizer’s global R&D) has a new book out about the industry, called Devalued and Distrusted. He tells Pharmalot that he got the idea to write a sequel to his earlier book, Drug Truths, when he appeared on the “Dr. Oz” show:

. . .and out of the blue last year, I got a call from The Dr. Oz show and they had a guest who wrote a book that was about America being overdosed. And when I got there, I saw a banner that says ‘four secrets drug companies don’t want you to know.’ I realized that never thought to ask the title of the show. . .It was a pretty long half hour and there were pretty much the standard attacks on industry – inventing diseases, prescribing drugs you don’t need. When I left, I clearly got the impression that the message needs to get out more. I was the only one from industry and there were all sorts of attacks. And everybody takes for granted that everything they say is absolutely right. So I decided to write a balanced book that deals with some of these issues.

Good luck to it, to him, and to us. I hope it reaches some of the people who need to hear it (which is one reason I’m highlighting it here), but I think that the ignorance out there (some of which is willful) is thick, deep, and dense. People feel differently about their health (and their health care) than they do about most other things in their lives, and there are always people ready to exploit that difference. Drug companies do so, with what I continue to think are net positive results, although there are entries on both sides of that ledger. And the people who go on about Evil Pharma. . .well, in many cases, they too have something to sell. A book or newsletter of their own, their services as a consultant or a guest on the next TV show, ads from their web site, a line of nutritional supplements and herbal wonder pills, what have you.
It’s human nature to enjoy having enemies, too – something to define yourself against. It would be good to have the drug companies serve that role less often, though, and the best way to do that, I think, is still to try to help people to understand what it’s like to actually discover and develop a drug. (LaMattina’s been trying to get that across, too). But not everyone wants to hear about that, or will believe it when they do. There’s some part of the population that believes (sometimes quite correctly) that there’s something wrong with their health, and moreover, some of them believe (sometimes quite incorrectly) that this must be someone else’s fault. Likely as not, some of these people will tell you, it was Big Pharma, who either made them sick in the first place, made them sicker once they took their drugs, or is to blame for not providing any drugs for them to take at all.

11 comments on “A New Book on the Drug Industry And Its Image”

  1. deltaenthalpy says:

    Or that Evil Pharma is charging an arm and leg for their drugs because they know that people have to take them…
    They’re a business, they have to make some profit. Turns out they have quite a large overhead to overcome. A lot of people don’t realize just how expensive it is to take a drug from lead to market.

  2. petros says:

    But it isn’t expensive to take a drug to market. Professor Donald Light has said so!
    Unfortunately such critics get far too much publicity

  3. Anonymous says:

    And how many R&D people were thrown out in the street when he was in charge of R&D at Pfizer? How many lives and careers did he destroy? How many people will not have the opportunity to help discover or develop a drug because spineless R&D heads wantonly destroyed their R&D units? Hypocrites disgust me. As far as I’m concerned, he can take his book and shove it because people like him helped destroy what was once a valuable industry to society. Nowadays, not so much. You reap what you sow.
    And, no, I didn’t use to work at Pfizer.

  4. luysii says:

    There is another, much psychologically deeper source of the hostility to the drug industry. Let me explain.
    As a practicing MD for decades, I’ve seen a ton of it, have learned to ignore it, and not take it personally.
    Let’s say you’re in the hospital with something bad, or at least worried that you have something bad. People will listen to you if you say O woe is me, why did this happen etc. etc. You and they both know they can’t do anything about why you’re there.
    However, you can focus your anger and fear on the hospital food, the fact that it’s noisy, the fact that the nurse didn’t come right away, the fact that the doc seemed rushed, etc. etc. Complaining about such things may get something done.
    So it is with the drug industry. All the drugs we have could work better, have fewer side effects. That’s why you guys are in the business of drug discovery. It’s much more satisfying psychologically to complain about price, or side effects.
    There certainly is some truth to the complaint that every aspect of life is being medicalized (or enshrined in the DSM-IV), but that’s another story.

  5. dearieme says:

    I used to visit and comment at the blog of a doctor who is very worried about psycho-active drugs and their side effects. Eventually he e-mailed me to say that he’d rather I didn’t read or comment at his site. My crime? I’d tried to explain to him that he was weakening his own case by referring to the manufacturers’ “mark up” on drugs, since the economics of the pharmaceutical industry didn’t bear much resemblance to that of a corner shop.
    I dare say that he has many good points to make but what can you do with people who refuse to bring good sense to their advocacy? I suppose I could have suggested that his silly rhetoric did not help with the plight of those patients he was concerned about, but life is too short.

  6. rozsa says:

    When are you going to comment on Goldacre’s Bad Pharma? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  7. rozsa says:

    When are you going to comment on Goldacre’s Bad Pharma? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  8. johnnyboy says:

    @3 anonymous: your bile is misdirected. LaMattina left Pfizer in 2007, before the bloodbath really got going. I worked there during his tenure, and as far as I know he was fairly well respected. In any case, as head of R&D I don’t think decisions to close down entire sites would have been down to him.

  9. Average Joe says:

    I agree with johnnyboy. Speaking as a bench chemist victim of the Pfizer carnage, I very much respect Dr. LaMattina, and my interaction with him was positive and memorable. One could sense his humility and integrity, and passion for doing drug discovery the right way. I have no use for any of the clowns at Pfizer after that.

  10. Average Schmo says:

    I too refute the suggestion that JLM had significant wriggle room to dissent when ordered by his bosses to close/downsize X, Y, Z research departments.

  11. AnonymousHemoMom says:

    I am new to this blog, but am very interested in both the science and politics (for lack of a better term) of the pharmaceutical industry. I am the mother of a child with severe, chronic, life-threatening conditions (hemophilia and asthma, to name two).
    I have to say that I respect and appreciate the pharmaceutical industry for maintaining my son’s life. At the same time, I know several individuals whose lives have been irreparably damaged because of “big pharma’s” mistakes. My son almost died from a Pseudomonas infection when he was five years old. The company that supplied us with that medication tried to brush their mistake under the rug. My point is that there is good and bad in every group of people and it is unrealistic to think otherwise.

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