The pharmaceutical industry has spearheaded some incredible, life-saving medicines and therapeutics over the last century. But at some point, profit started to matter more than the people the industry was supposed to serve.
Today, Big Pharma very much operates with a profit-over-everything mindset. They may still come out with some essential drugs that are helping people and saving lives; but ultimately, the industry today is driven towards maximizing the bottom line for the handful of corporations that own the market. So how does an industry that has gotten so big continue to grow?
One tactic they use is the repurposing of drugs. Drug repurposing involves exploring new medical uses for existing drugs, including approved, discontinued, shelved, and investigational therapeutics. Big Pharma loves to repurpose drugs because it saves them significant time and money.
When a drug is being repurposed, the FDA does not require new safety or manufacturing data. This means that the drug company doesn’t need to pay or wait for expensive clinical trials before getting that drug to market. You don’t have to be a finance whiz to understand why that is so appealing to Big Pharma.
Clinical trials are some of the most significant expenses associated with developing a new drug. In most cases, the drug manufacturer needs to fund animal studies, followed by human studies, followed by more human studies before they have enough safety and efficacy data to receive FDA approval. This process takes a lot of time and money, which is not good for the bottom line.
If a drug company repurposes a previously-approved drug for a completely different use, they can go to the FDA and say: “Hey, remember this drug? It was safe when we used it to treat X, so it must be safe when we use it to treat Y. Can we get a stamp of approval?” And then the FDA says, “Of course. You don’t have to do any additional safety trials. What could possibly go wrong?”
The latest pill to “treat” obesity is actually a chemotherapy drug — some of the most intense drugs on the planet
That saves the drug company a lot of time, money, and headache, which makes drug repurposing a very lucrative way of bringing a drug to market. Researchers are currently looking at ways of repurposing a breast cancer drug to treat diabetes. There are also efforts being made to repurpose a type of chemotherapy (carfilzomib) as a pill to treat obesity.
That’s right. They want to repurpose a type of chemotherapy to treat obesity. We aren’t doctors or expert scientists, so take this opinion however you want, but that seems like a bit of a stretch. Can’t we just work harder to get people moving and eating better before we start dishing out cancer drugs to help people lose weight? Obesity is a serious issue for us in the U.S., but I am honestly not convinced that adding chemotherapy to the mix is the solution.
Ahh yes, but if they can patent a chemotherapy pill to treat obesity, there are far more obese people than cancer patients in the U.S. All of a sudden, the available market for that drug gets really big and it all starts to make sense.
Not only does repurposing seem like a shady tactic by Big Pharma to squeeze as much profit out of a single drug. There are also very serious safety considerations to think about when a drug is getting FDA approval for a new therapeutic use based on old safety data. It is a known fact that almost one-third of drugs approved by the FDA end up years later with warnings about unexpected, sometimes life-threatening side effects.
The key takeaway? Big Pharma loves repurposing drugs the way a frugal mom loves repurposing fall decorations. It’s kind of the same thing, except for the fact that one of those is a lot more wholesome than the other.
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