Category: Development

Great News, but Innovative, Really?

The “innovation” in this approach is not scientific, but economic.

Cheap drugs for poor nations | Guardian Weekly | Guardian Unlimited

Improvements they devise to the molecular structure of an existing, expensive drug turn it technically into a new medicine that is no longer under a 20-year patent to a multinational drug company and can be made and sold cheaply. The process has the potential to undermine the monopoly of the big drug companies and bring cheaper drugs not only to poor countries but back to the UK.

Okay, I may be missing something here, but this is not a scientifically innovative strategy. They are called Me-Too drugs. Pharma has been doing this for years. Read this article in the Stanford Medicine Magazine about exactly how this is done.

Nexium illustrates the drug makers’ strategy. Many chemicals come in two versions, each a mirror image of the other: an L-isomer and an R-isomer. (The “L” is for left, the “R” is for right.) Nexium’s predecessor Prilosec is a mixture of both isomers. When Prilosec’s patent expired in 2001, the drug maker was ready with Nexium, which contains only the L-isomer.

Is Nexium better? So far,

there’s no convincing evidence that it is, says Stanford drug industry watcher Randall Stafford, MD, PhD.

This is a well known and well used strategy. The Government Accounting Office (GAO) recently released a study which concluded that 68% of all drugs developed in the US between 1993 and 2004 were Me-Toos.

So, what is “innovative” and “revolutionary” about this approach is that non-profits are driving the drug development. By outsourcing the entire clinical trial to India, substantial savings are to be had. By not having to fund the US shareholders’ need for huge profits, enormous company overhead, high salaries, multi million dollar executive bonuses and marketing expenses that US/European pharma require, cost savings are potentially huge.

The downside? Well, unless the studies are run according to US/EU GLP/GMP guidelines, data quality, and therefore, drug safety can be suspect. The pedigree of the people involved in this effort makes it unlikely that the data is going to be suspect. If their ultimate aim is to sell these drugs in England, then they will have to meet the most stringent standards available.

Of course, these drugs will never hit the US of A. I can already hear the fear mongering, the safety doubts being raised, the “terrorists may get their hands on your pill” bogey, etc. But, Americans can afford to pay for their drugs more than your average Indian suffering from Hepatitis C can. Once the already teetering (by first world standards, of course!) healthcare system in the US gets closer to collapse (by first world standards, of course!), some of these “innovations” will become more viable in this most reactionary of countries.

I hope this model is proven to be viable.

India, The Emerging (polio stricken?) Tiger

States on alert against polio – – News on States on alert against polio

India appears to be in a grip of a polio outbreak with 352 cases reported so far this year, many of them from areas that were free of the virus, and officials fear the number may increase further. Uttar Pradesh alone has reported 312 cases, the highest of all the states, and World Health Organisation officials have described it as an “exporter” of the disease.

In Uttar Pradesh, officials said 90 percent of the cases were due to ignorance in the minority Muslim community, who believed the polio vaccine could make children impotent.

From wikipedia

Only four countries in the world (Nigeria, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan) are reported to have endemic polio.

I remember reading about a Nigerian Province issue with Clerics claiming “that vaccines supplied by Western donors were adulterated to reduce fertility and spread AIDS as part of a general war on Islam”, which the Wikipedia Polio article verifies. But we have never seen this in India before, and I find it hard to believe. I will remain sceptical about the Muslim clerical influence on India’s polio debacle unless I hear better. News from India sometimes builds its own “truth momentum”, with speculation and hearsay morphing into bulletproof truth in a matter of hours. It is also easy in India to start rumors to deflect blame.Here’s a contrarian take from a Reuter’s Article

“Tens of thousands of children were missed by state health workers over the past year during rounds of immunization, leading to a resurgence of the virus, they said.

“We are very concerned. It raises the threat to India and is also threatening other countries,” said Jay Wenger, head of the National Polio Surveillance Project, a collaboration between the WHO and the Indian government.

One federal official said around 10 percent of children in several western districts of Uttar Pradesh, known for its ramshackle state health care and sluggish bureaucracy, could have missed immunization between late 2005 and early 2006.

“These (vaccination) rounds were of poor quality,” said the official, who did not want to be named.”

Well, sounds more logical, does it not? But why let the depressing truth of inadequacy get in the way of a juicy and self-perpetuating tale of Muslim backwardness.

India, the emerging tiger.

The most important thing I read today (Indian Agriculture Edition)

Yes, I read the Times article about this subject too, but Tom Philpott and P. Sainath writer better and more eloquently.

India, food, and modernization | Gristmill: The environmental news blog | Grist

That “promising biotechnology” is Monsanto’s Bt cotton seed, genetically modified to ward off the cotton bollworm. Indian farmers have been desperate to get their hands on it because they think they need it to compete with their lavishly capitalized and subsidized U.S. peers.

But the Monsanto seed, which promises to enable farmers to use 25 percent less pesticide, might not be worth the premium (it goes for about twice as much as conventional seed, the Times reports). The great Indian journalist P. Sainath wrote recently that “despite all the claims made for [Bt cotton], input dealers here have seen no decline in pesticide sales as a result of its use. Some claim higher sales than before.”

As prices for seeds and other inputs rise, farmers have seen the price their goods fetch in the marketplace fall or stagnate. The result has been crushing debt burdens, mounting losses, and a stunning surge in suicides among farmers.

The Times reports that “17,107 farmers committed suicide in 2003, the most recent year for which government figures are available. Anecdotal reports suggest that the high rates are continuing.”

Well, that’s one way to clear the land of “inefficient” farmers.

For the enduring scam that is BT cotton, read this.