MAKING A KILLING: Major new report exposes how drug industry greed harms people and animals

Posted on the 3rd September 2008

National campaign group Animal Aid today (September 3) calls on government to crack down on drug industry practices that put profits before all else.

In a major new report, entitled Making a Killing: How drug company greed harms people and animals, the group exposes a catalogue of unethical practices – beginning with misleading animal tests – that are designed to drive up drug sales, which already cost the NHS £11 billion per year. The public’s health also suffers: in 2006, 1 million people were hospitalised in Britain due to adverse drug reactions.

Citing more than 400 references, the report paints a compelling picture of a morally bankrupt industry that has run out of control. Dishonest and unethical practices include: employing unreliable animal tests to make drug products look safe; suppressing negative clinical trial results; manipulating doctors with handsome consultancy fees; and exploiting people’s health fears through advertising campaigns that pose as ’disease awareness’ initiatives.

Some 600,000 animals pay with their lives each year for such self-serving behaviour. But because the data generated by animal ‘safety’ and ‘efficacy’ tests cannot be applied reliably to human medicine, patients also suffer. The Home Office has admitted that, though it is the animal research licensing authority, it has never ‘commissioned or evaluated any formal research on the efficacy of animal experiments’.

People also pay a heavy price because of pharmaceutical company behaviour during the trialling and marketing of drugs. A stark example is Avastin, about which there was recently heated debate over whether the NHS should prescribe it for kidney cancer patients; it costs up to six times as much as existing treatments. Avastin was originally licensed to treat colon cancer but was also used by opthalmologists – in such small quantities that it was extremely cost-effective – as a therapy for wet age-related macular degeneration. Instead of applying for a licence for this use, the drug’s manufacturer packaged it in tiny quantities, renamed it Lucentis, and now reportedly sells it for up to 100 times more than the cost of Avastin.

Animal Aid believes that ‘Big Pharma’ must be reined in so that it serves the public as well as itself. The group is calling on the British and European governments urgently to introduce a series of measures (see Notes below). These include commissioning an independent scientific review into the reliability of animal tests; enforcing a fairer pricing system for drugs; shelving EU plans to allow drugs promotion direct to the public; and ensuring that drug companies do not conceal vital testing data from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).

Says the report’s author, Toni Vernelli:

‘Animal Aid’s new report has brought together compelling evidence that pharmaceutical industry greed kills not only hundreds of thousands of laboratory animals in Britain every year, but it also places at serious risk the health of the general public. A million people were hospitalised in Britain in 2006 because of drug side effects, yet politicians, the regulatory authorities and key sectors of the media have failed to hold this rapacious and reckless industry to account. NICE has recently taken a hammering because it sought to control a runaway drugs bill. It should, instead, be awarded additional powers. The government must rein in this wayward industry before the NHS is bankrupted and public health suffers even more grievously.’

Notes to Editors:

The five measures being demanded of the British and European governments are:

  1. The commissioning of an independent scientific review of the relevance to human medicine of animal tests. The US National Institutes of Health – a first rank research body – has recently committed itself to phasing out the use of animals in chemical safety tests because it sees them as time-consuming, expensive and unreliable.
  2. The introduction of an independent, non-governmental element to the review process for the issuing of animal experiment licences.
  3. The implementation of a value-based drug pricing system as recommended by the Office of Fair Trading. This system – which links drug prices to their therapeutic value – would create a level playing field for generic and branded products. It would also eliminate the incentive for companies to produce ‘me-too’ drugs – medicines that perform essentially the same therapeutic function as one or more products already on the market. Fewer unnecessary drugs coming to market would reduce the number of animal drug tests and free up resources for companies to investigate truly innovative medicines.
  4. The shelving of the European Commission’s plans to allow drug companies to promote their products directly to the public. As Making a Killing demonstrates, drug companies cannot be relied upon to present accurate and unbiased information.
  5. Ensuring that NICE has access to all of the information it needs to evaluate the cost effectiveness of new drugs, including the results of unpublished trials (which are often negative). This would prevent large sums of public money being spent on drugs that damage patient health and/or are of dubious clinical benefit.

Additional Information:

  • View or download the full report
  • Hard copies are available on request.
  • For further information and to arrange interviews, contact Andrew Tyler on 01732 364546.
  • Photographs from the report are available on request.
  • We have an ISDN line for broadcast-quality interviews.

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