It is a sad truth that almost all therapeutic drugs used to treat health conditions are either an inadequate form of control or the cause of a number of unpleasant side effects. The pursuit to find more potent and safer drugs is ongoing and in recent years, particularly in the area of cancer drugs, this has meant that patient health and wellbeing has greatly improved. So, surely every effort must be made to aid this valuable research? Unfortunately this is not always the case, big pharma is a ruthless business and on too many occasions profit will come before the patient.
The efficacy and quality of new drugs must be compared with existing drugs.
The process of drug development goes far beyond just the work within the labs but is a collaborative affair requiring the input of the funding bodies, research groups and willing participation of the companies that own
existing drugs. As with any new drug, its efficacy and quality must be compared with those that already exist. These existing drugs are essentially used as “benchmarks” from which any new benefits may be identified. Unfortunately, pharma is a big money business and development of better and safer alternatives to existing drugs means that the old drugs will be cast aside, cutting billions of pounds from their profits. As a result, many companies safe guard their drugs by placing limitations on disclosure of new information discovered during research of the newer drugs.
Our interview with Dr Richards: researcher in epilepsy seizure control.
The International Post Magazine have been fortunate enough to speak with Dr Richards, a university research scientist who has experienced limitations to his work on new epilepsy seizure drugs as a result of these restrictions. (This name is fictional and is used for protection of privacy.)
Dr Richards’ research involves screening a number of compounds considered more potent than the existing epilepsy seizure drugs in model organisms used to observe biochemical processes in humans. So far, his research has been fruitful, having already obtained 2 patents for compounds believed to be more potent than existing drugs.
“Why waste time working on research that may be refused?”
Dr Richards tells me that in order to proceed further with these new drugs, their mechanism of action must be now be compared with those that already exist. However, as any research conducted upon previous drugs will only be detrimental to their sales, the companies that own them will only supply researchers with a sample for testing if they sign a “Non- disclosure agreement”. Under these conditions, the drugs companies can be selective of what information, discovered during research, gets published. It is not in the company’s commercial interest for the information on new and better drugs to be shared. Furthermore, this research may identify flaws in their drugs. These companies would now be at liberty to prevent details like these coming to light. If the researchers disagree with these terms, then they simply won’t be supplied with the drugs to perform research on. Dr Richards expressed his views on the matter: “Why waste time working on research that may be refused?”
1/3 epilepsy sufferers do not have their seizures under medical control.
But what is the bigger picture here? Ultimately, it is the epilepsy sufferers who are missing out. Dr Richards tells me that a third of epilepsy sufferers still experience seizures. It seems that further improvement of medication is needed in order to bring patient’s seizures under control. The prospect of this, is a highly feasible one, as Dr Richards’ research has shown, scientifically we are perfectly equipped to do this. However, progress is being held back by companies who fail to see drugs as nothing more than a commodity.
When people’s health is at stake it seems so shameful for these companies to place so much interest on financial profits. Either there is a general disregard for the therapeutic benefits of their drugs or they fail to realise the impact they have on slowing research. What needs to be acknowledged is that research doesn’t happen autonomously, the support from other groups is key for progression. This includes funding, which is also vital part of the process.
Dr Richards is not the only researcher to experience this lack of co-operation, all over the world there are groups waiting on funding or for other support before continuing with their work. This state of affairs is disheartening and there needs to be more interest on treating the patient rather than the return from sales. Whether this will happen is down to the conscience of these companies.