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Pharmaceuticals Propping Up The Sick To Push Their Pills

They've been doing it for years. Why not? It's a brilliant strategy if you want to sell your product. The testimonial. Who can resist the "I've used it, and it's worked wonders for me" line? Except now, they are getting the testimonials to manipulate people into pressuring health agencies to OK the drug faster.

First they find what they call an "opinion leader". Someone who can be quoted, someone who seems to be credible. And they try to get that person to basically sell the drug to the public. It also helps if they get out a message that says "the government is keeping you from getting this miraculous life-saving drug". Play up the outrage. It's a good motivator.

Lisa Jardine was at home recovering from chemotherapy one evening last May when the phone rang. She was not feeling all that well; the conversation that followed made her feel worse. There was only one breast cancer story around last May, as is still true today: Herceptin. It was a wonder drug - it halved some women's chances of having a recurrence of their cancer. But women who would die without it were being denied access, apparently for financial reasons - or so the story went. Women with aggressive, early-stage breast cancers had taken to the streets and the courts for their right to get it. So when - a week before the phone call - Jardine, who had had breast cancer, was asked in a newspaper interview what she thought about Herceptin, she responded that although she was confident she was receiving the best of care, "if Herceptin really is as effective as we are being told, I do feel I ought to be given the choice".

Then came the phone call. "Halfway through the following week, the phone goes at home," says Jardine, professor of Renaissance studies at Queen Mary, University of London, writer and well-known television presenter. "It's a really nice woman. She says to me, 'I read about you in the paper and I gather you'd like access to Herceptin and you can't get it.'"

By now, however, Jardine had decided that she did not want the drug. "I said, 'No - that's not the case with me. I have decided not to have Herceptin.'

"She said, 'Even if you don't want it yourself, would you come and talk to some of our seminars because we're running a big campaign to promote Herceptin? Either we could find funding for Herceptin or, if you really don't want it or decide against it, there would be fees for appearances.'

"I said, 'Could you tell me where you are from?' She said, 'We work for Roche.'


It helps to explain how a drug such as Herceptin, despite being as yet unlicensed for use on women with early-stage cancer, and despite there being only a few years of test data from its manufacturers Roche to support claims being made by some for benefits for this group of women, came to be a household name and a cause celebre.

The industry journal Pharmaceutical Marketing ran a recent piece describing how "motivated patients can move mountains and boost your drug's fortunes".

Once you stir up the public outrage ("I should get everything that I deserve that I'm not already getting), it makes it that much easier for the pharmaceuticals to get their drugs approved. Especially with the UK's parliamentary system, MPs feel more beholden to their constituents than our Congressman. Your constituency is outraged. You might not get elected again if you don't appease them. Plus, how bad does the government look when you've got cancer patients saying you're keeping from them the one thing that could save their lives?

Look, it's good that politicians are beholden to their constituents. They ought to be. Their job is to represent the people, afterall. I know here in the States it seems more like the elite are there to keep the rabble in check, not to represent them. But, hey, it looked good on paper. Anyway, when the government fails to do its duty to its citizens, they certainly should speak out against it. But what's happening here is pharmaceuticals manipulating that system. They create a mythical problem. They feed this story to a public all too willing to feel abused by the government (and not without good reason considering little things like the lies that brought about the Iraq invasion and the widening gap between the rich and the poor) and sit back and watch the show. It's not the lawyers we should despise nowadays. It's the PR people.

Now, it doesn't stop with the random opinion leader. That would be leaving too much to chance. No. What you've also got to do is establish a steady set of supporters. Patient groups. Donate money to patient groups. The groups will cite their guidelines and talk about their integrity but....BUT "we believe it is important to maintain cooperative relationships with companies that manufacture and market cancer drugs and other treatments, in order to foster communication between the patients...and the companies whose decisions will affect their treatment".

Ah yes. Integrity. Remember the Body Shop? They sold their integrity for £130m to L'Oreal last month. That's about $280m US Dollars.

How much money does it take to get you to start blurring the lines? How much to convince you that the ends justify the means? We're a non-profit organization that wants to increase awareness of its patient members so that we can improve treatment, but we're going to need funding to get that message out, to keep our campaign going. Here's a pharmaceutical who's going to donate a very generous sum to our organization. It's going to be a strictly hands off relationship. Sure sure. We aren't going to shill their product for them. But they're not our enemies. We all use drugs that they've manufactured. They've done their share of good. And they can provide us with good info on the drugs they do manufacture. It's a win-win situation. And we've got those guidelines to keep us in check.

You get the picture. Perdition. Good intentions.

By min | April 20, 2006, 9:40 AM | Liberal Outrage & Science | Comments (0)| Link

Biometric ID Cards

A few weeks ago, the House of Lords finally passed Blair's identity card legislation. By 2010, it will be required for new passport holders in the UK to carry these ID cards. The cards contain biometric data which include retina and iris data, fingerprints, and voice patterns. On top of that, it will have personal information such as nationality, insurance number, and any number for any other IDs issued. Read here for the full list.

From the point of view of privacy, you're talking about one huge database to house all this information in one place for everybody with a UK passport. Who's going to construct the database? Write the program for the database? Who's going to have access to this database? Have access to every single bit of data on your life, including physical characteristics? Is Clerk #52 going to be able to alleviate his boredom by surfing the database? Even if it's Special Officer #52 with super secret security clearance, that doesn't mean he couldn't also be a pedophile. And just how easily can this database be hacked into? Well, let's ask the Dutch:

"Despite strong encryption, the Dutch biometric passports have already been hacked. What if someone hacks the UK system and uses this to forge cards? Obviously this would make a mockery of the whole ID card system. The government needs to tread carefully with the implementation of these cards, or the seeds of disaster will be there from the making."

But privacy issues aside, it's not even likely to stop forgery and fraud. This article in New Scientist from 2003 says that it won't prevent people from having mulitiple cards and multiple identities. Not only that, scans are so sensitive to environmental factors that even if you are you, a scan of you now compared to the data saved might not match.

A plan to introduce biometric ID cards in the UK will fail to achieve one of its main aims, New Scientist has learned. The proposed system will do nothing to prevent fraudsters acquiring multiple identity cards.
The problem, says [Simon] Davies, [an expert in information systems at the London School of Economics and director of Privacy International], is the limited accuracy of biometric systems combined with the sheer number of people to be identified. The most optimistic claims for iris recognition systems are around 99 per cent accuracy - so for every 100 scans, there will be at least one false match.

This is acceptable for relatively small databases, but the one being proposed will have some 60 million records. This will mean that each person's scan will match 600,000 records in the database, making it impossible to stop someone claiming multiple identities.


Davies sees no prospect of improvements to the technology solving the problem. Bill Perry, of the UK's Association for Biometrics, agrees that there is an upper limit to the reliability of iris scans. There are too many environmental variables: scans can be affected by lighting conditions and body temperature, so much so that a system can fail to match two scans of the same iris taken under different conditions.

Well, I suppose we can be positive and hope that by 2010 the technology will have improved. Take heart. Forgerers and hackers are a lazy, unmotivated lot. That's why they don't have proper jobs. I'm sure they work slowly. And how many legal citizens and immigrants could they possibly mistakenly detain and rendition in that period of time? Couldn't be more than several hundred, right?

By min | April 20, 2006, 8:37 AM | Liberal Outrage & Science | Comments (0)| Link

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