Pinching pennies

Government officials (one hesitates to call them “leaders”) are twisting themselves into contortions to try to avoid going over the so-called “fiscal cliff” that will come about in January when the Budget Control Act goes into effect. But they’re not the only ones up in arms about the bill. You see, these spending reductions will also affect many areas of medicine, including medical research.

But what no one is talking about is the fact that medical research spending has already actually tripled between 1995-2005. Yet we certainly didn’t see the number of cures triple in that 10 year period.

The fact is, most research funding goes into the development of drugs.

The NIH gets an annual budget of $33 billion. And most of it is ultimately related to new drug development. And drug companies have an even larger annual research budget of nearly $40 billion. ALL of which is directed to new drug development.

Assuming that the public “needs” ever more drugs, there is one potential risk with leaving the lion’s share of research funding to the drug companies.

The billions that the drug companies invest in such experiments help fund the world’s quest for “cures.” The problem is, their aim isn’t just a quest for new medical knowledge, but part of a high-risk gamble for profits. Corporate interference has repeatedly muddled the nation’s drug science. Sometimes with potentially lethal consequences.

Over the past decade, controversies over blockbuster drugs such as Vioxx, Avandia and Celebrex erupted amid charges that the companies had shaped their research to obscure the dangerous side effects. When the drug company is footing the bill, opportunities for mischief multiply. Company science executives seeking to promote their drugs can design research that makes their products look better. They can select like-minded academics to perform the work. And they can run the statistics in ways that make their own drugs look better than they are. If troubling signs about a drug arise, they can steer clear of further exploration and just try to rush the drug through the FDA approval process. Covering up dangerous complications along the way—as was the case for Vioxx (see “The deadliest drug in history”).

How do taxpayers benefit by continuing full subsidies to carry out more research for more of the same results?

The question everyone should be asking is, could the public survive with a 5 or even 10 percent cut to drug research?

Given the repeated safety debacles associated with new “blockbuster” drugs even after they’re approved by the FDA, one might wonder if our physical health, as well as fiscal health, might be better off without most of it.

Especially since there are already good treatments for the most common medical problems using generic drugs that are long proven safe—and are available at a fraction of the cost. Not to mention that, to date, all the evidence points to natural approaches as the best way forward for both effective and cost-effective health care.

So as long as the mainstream medical establishment continues to look to new drugs as the first and best solution for better health, perhaps we truly are better off with less of this kind of research funding. And across-the-board budget cuts will finally do their part to getting our national economy off life support itself.