Aspirin, cancer, and economic forces in research

A NYT article on aspirin research points to promising studies suggesting that aspirin reduces cancer risk. It certainly sounds like good news to thousands of researchers worldwide dedicating their work to curing, or at least preventing, cancer. Or does it?

The most striking line in this NYT article can be found at the end: “Some cancer doctors commended the new research, saying that despite the limitations of the analyses, no other long-term clinical trials of aspirin and cancer are likely to be done because of the enormous expense involved and the fact that aspirin is a cheap generic drug.” This also seems to sum up what truly drives medical research: if it is not a significant investment opportunity, the new treatment will simply not be investigated.

There are various conspiracy theories about actually effective cancer treatments not being introduced to the market because the pharmaceutical industry would forgo staggering profits (since monthly cost of chemotherapy can reach as much as $20,000, for drugs with negligible production cost). Much as one should take such claims with a grain of salt, the conclusions of the Oxford study on aspirin are yet another example of how medical research is driven solely by the commercialization potential of its results – simply put, by money. This is especially striking in both of the quoted US studies, where similar research on unreasonably cheap aspirin was set up in such a way as to preclude any positive relationship between this drug and its effectiveness for cancer treatment – the researchers simply manipulated the dosage in such a way as to render the “treatment” predictably ineffective (although the recommended dosage is one baby aspirin a day for cardiac patients, here the researchers arbitrarily decided to give to their subjects one baby aspirin only every other day). One can only imagine the utter tragedy for pharmaceutical industry profits if half of their future cancer patients suddenly did not need extortionately expensive treatments due to daily consumption of one very cheap generic pill without any known significant side-effects. Understandably, such revolutionary prevention would be fought tooth and nail, and with any number of ‘studies,’ to prevent it from becoming part of the official recommendation of various government agencies. That is, after all, the raison d’ĂȘtre of lobbying and industry funding of the regulatory process.

Another question is why exactly the U.S. standard dosage for so-called baby aspirin used in prevention of cardiac disease is 81 mg, almost exactly 20% lower than that in the EU (100 mg). Is it another preventive measure of the FDA to make sure that aspirin does not become too effective in the U.S. market, or are manufacturers simply aiming to increase profits by selling a drug with reduced potency?

No comments:

Post a Comment