As a precursor to this post, Vanity Fair published an exquisite and exhaustive article on pharmaceutical companies and their trial medicines. (Make the jump and read this fantastic article). Most drug companies outsource to other countries (India; China; Africa) because in those entities, regulations are virtually nonexistent. Pfizer (Celebrex) and GlaxoSmithKline (Synflorix) are among the worst.
There have been clinical trials in Malawi (61), the Russian Federation (1,513), Romania (876), Thailand (786), Ukraine (589), Kazakhstan (15), Peru (494), Iran (292), Turkey (716), and Uganda (132). Throw a dart at a world map and you are unlikely to hit a spot that has escaped the attention of those who scout out locations for the pharmaceutical industry.
The two destinations that one day will eclipse all the others, including Europe and the United States, are China (with 1,861 trials) and India (with 1,457).
The Celebrex story does not have a happy ending. First, it was disclosed that patients taking the drug were more likely to suffer heart attacks and strokes than those who took older and cheaper painkillers. Then it was alleged that Pfizer had suppressed a study calling attention to these very problems. (The company denied that the study was undisclosed and insisted that it “acted responsibly in sharing this information in a timely manner with the F.D.A.”) Soon afterward the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine reported an array of additional negative findings. Meanwhile, Pfizer was promoting Celebrex for use with Alzheimer’s patients, holding out the possibility that the drug would slow the progression of dementia. It didn’t. Sales of Celebrex reached $3.3 billion in 2004, and then began to quickly drop.
Synflorix, to prevent pneumonia, ear infections, and other pneumococcal diseases. Developed by GlaxoSmithKline, the world’s fourth-largest pharmaceutical company in terms of global prescription-drug sales, the new vaccine was intended to compete against an existing vaccine. In all, at least 14 infants enrolled in clinical trials for the drug died during the testing. Their parents, some illiterate, had their children signed up without understanding that they were taking part in an experiment. Local doctors who persuaded parents to enroll their babies in the trial reportedly received $350 per child. The two lead investigators contracted by Glaxo were fined by the Argentinean government. So was Glaxo, though the company maintained that the mortality rate of the children “did not exceed the rate in the regions and countries participating in the study.” No independent group conducted an investigation or performed autopsies. As it happens, the brother of the lead investigator in Santiago del Estero was the Argentinean provincial health minister.
With all this said.....
Truvada, an HIV medication to prevent infection, trials are being stopped in Africa, citing poor early results:
[Subjects] taking Truvada, made by Gilead Sciences Inc., are just as likely to get HIV as other [subjects] who have been given dummy pills, an interim analysis of the study found. Even if the study were to continue, it would not be able to determine whether the pills help prevent infection, since the results are even this far along, researchers said. The finding is disappointing because another study last fall concluded that Truvada did help prevent infections in gay and bisexual men when given with condoms, counseling and other prevention services. Many AIDS experts view that as a breakthrough that might help slow the epidemic.