Washington: Eighty five per cent of new
drugs offer "few if any new benefits" to patients, and
sometimes pharma companies "hide" about serious side effects,
according to a leading critic of the industry.
The pharmaceutical industry is "market of lemons"
where the seller knows much more than the buyer about the
safety and effectiveness of the products said the report
presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological
Association in Atlanta.
"Sometimes drug companies hide or downplay information
about serious side effects of new drugs and overstate the
drugs` benefits," said study author Donald Light, a professor
at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
"Then, they spend two to three times more on marketing
than on research to persuade doctors to prescribe these new
drugs. Doctors may get misleading information and then
misinform patients about the risks of a new drug.
"It`s really a two-tier market for lemons."
Light`s study titled "Pharmaceuticals: A Two-Tier
Market for Producing `Lemons` and Serious Harm" is an
institutional analysis of the pharmaceutical industry based on
a range of independent sources and studies, including the
Canadian Patented Medicine Prices Review Board, the Food and
Drug Administration, and Prescrire International.
It found that about 85 per cent of new drugs offer few
if any new benefits. Yet, toxic side effects or misuse of
prescription drugs now make prescription drugs a significant
cause of death in the United States, it said.
To justify his "lemon market" remark, the scientists
gave reasons such as biased selection of companies to test new
drugs, providing legal protection behind which information
about harms or effectiveness can be hidden, and the relatively
low bar set for drug efficacy in order for a new drug to be
The scientist alleged that building on clinical trials
designed to minimise evidence of harm and published literature
that emphasises a drug`s advantages, pharma companies launch
massive campaigns to sell their product. But a controlled,
limited launch would allow evidence to be gathered about the
According to him, companies recruit leading clinicians
to try using the drug for conditions other than those for
which it is approved and to promote such off-label or
In this fashion, physicians inadvertently become
"double agents" -- promoters of the new drug, yet trusted
stewards of patients` well-being, said Light.
When patients complain of adverse reactions, studies
showed that their doctors are likely to discount or dismiss
them, he said.