If ever there was an industry that believed the ends justify the means it has to be Pharmaceuticals. The ends in question are often believed to be pioneering drugs, but that’s Big Pharma’s PR spin. What really counts is profits. So drug research increasingly brings forth formulations for which there is a captive market (even if diseases need to be invented in order to fit the drug) and ignores the ailments of the poor. Sonia Shah predicts the result: ‘a drug-marinated class of rich alongside a meds-famished poor’.
As more formulations vie to be tested than ever before, ‘contract research organizations’ (CROs) have entered the fray, facilitating the hunt for bodies to test drugs on. In yet one more form of industrial colonialism, the drugs that will eventually benefit mostly Western consumers who can afford to pay are being tested on the bodies of desperate people in the Majority World who cannot fund medical treatment. Shah deftly sketches the giant webs of complicity that rope in doctors, academics, hospitals with cash and equipment before the hapless subjects are gathered. She makes a convincing case against the obscenity of ‘placebo control’ trials where one group of subjects receives no medication at all, especially when life-threatening diseases are involved. She demonstrates how every ethical consideration is flouted and exposes ‘informed consent’ for the utter sham it is in practice. Her case is made stronger by the fact that she also takes the time to explain Big Pharma’s point of view.
This is a painstakingly researched exposé; Shah is a skilful guide, presenting quite convoluted events and the science involved with a storyteller’s craft. Knowing Big Pharma’s penchant for litigation, this is a brave book and the author’s vigorous style makes it a real page-turner.