5-Star Friday: Drugs, mice, and money

I doubt a week goes by at HealthNewsReview.org that we don’t write about one of the following …

… drugs, mice, or money.

5-Star FridayYou could rightly accuse me of being predictable when I say that following the money has gotten trickier in health care journalism; that pharma as a lobbyist makes the auto industry of the post-war years look like a wimp, and that if I had a dime for every sensationalistic health story I read that forgot to mention the research was actually based on mice … well … I’d be writing this sentence from a beach in the South Pacific.

I get it that readers are suffering from fatigue on these topics. But the writing featured below reminds me we can’t afford to stop writing and reading about these issues. The alternative comes at too big a price.

Mary Chris Jaklevic | Reporter-Editor

Mary Chris Jaklevic

Patient Advocacy Groups Take In Millions From Drugmakers. Is There A Payback? • by • Kaiser Health News

This project to track industry donations to patient advocacy groups — resulting in a database of $116 million in payments to 594 groups in a single year — suggests how that massive flow of money is being used to mute objections to high drug prices.

As we’ve reported, companies aren’t obligated to report their gifts to not-for-profit groups that claim to speak for patients. These reporters sought data from 20 large public companies, 14 of which disclosed donations. Hundreds of other publicly traded biopharmaceutical companies weren’t included.

Even so, the scope of payments documented here is substantial. In fact, those 14 companies contributed nearly twice as much to patient groups as they spent in lobbying activities in 2015.

Kevin Lomangino | Managing Editor

Study questions animal data underlying many clinical trials • by Emma Yasinski • Science

Kevin Lomangino

Amidst growing ethical concerns about the marketing of clinical trials to patients, a study points to a new reason why patients should think carefully about participating in these experiments: the animal data that underlies them may not be of very good quality.

Yasinski’s report on this study focuses on so-called investigator brochures, which are booklets summarizing animal research that’s meant to justify human clinical studies to the regulatory bodies that must approve them. The authors found that the vast majority of animal studies described in these brochures were never published or subjected to peer review. The brochures also failed to include key methodological details such as whether the trials were randomized or took other steps to reduce bias.

Lacking such key information, Yasinki says, regulators aren’t in a good position to assess whether the data from animal studies justify the risk and expense of human studies. And according to Malcolm Macleod, a neurologist at the University of Edinburgh, it’s also one of the reasons why animal studies often fail to translate to humans. “Improving the design, conduct, and reporting of preclinical research is of the utmost priority if we are to move ahead, with all due haste, in the development of novel treatments across a range of diseases,” he says.

Michael Joyce | Writer-Producer

How A Drugmaker Turned The Abortion Pill Into A Rare-Disease Profit Machine • by Sarah Jane Tribble • Kaiser Health News

Remember RU-486? Hard to believe it’s been nearly 18 years since the FDA approved it for use as “the abortion pill.”

Michael Joyce

Well it turns out the active ingredient, mifepristone, acts on quite a few receptors in the body (in facilitating abortion it blocks progesterone receptors, leading to uterine wall breakdown). And this has many pharmaceutical companies excited, including Corcept Therapeutics. It’s their only product (rebranded as Korlym). Company revenues were nearly $160 million last year.

How can that be? Especially given that they’re using it solely for Cushing’s syndrome (a potentially fatal condition caused by elevated levels of the hormone, cortisol) and only treat about 1,000 patients in the U.S.?

In answering that question Tribble provides us with a provocative and disturbing glimpse into the gamesmanship of getting orphan drug status; using Medicare as a cash cow to the tune of $11 million-a-year; that cozy relationship between Pharma and patient advocacy groups mentioned above; and how a pill goes from $80 to $550 and can cost a patient $180,000 annually.

For a quick 10-minute read, this article speaks volumes.

Please Note: These stories have not been subject to our rigorous, 10-criteria systematic review for accuracy, balance, and completeness. Rather, they represent pieces of health care journalism and opinion writing that members of our staff found compelling and wanted to share with others.

5-Star Friday is a regular feature on HealthNewsReview.org. You can find a list of previous installments HERE.

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