In his article “New Drugs are Often Bad for Patients, Great for Pharma”, Allen Francis, Professor Emeritus at Duke University, makes the following statements:
“Pharma research has failed to produce much real progress in fighting disease, largely because curing disease is not its mission. Instead, most Pharma research is tied to marketing and lobbying – with the primary goal of generating profit, not helping patients.
The result – new pills that are no better, sometimes worse, and always outrageously expensive drive the old stand-by pills off the market. Greed triumphs over science, sound economics, and patient welfare.”
Sure, drug development and marketing are part of a standard business model in our country, particularly with massive funding toward leveraging marketing to drive product profitability. But according to a piece published on FiercePharma last year, most Pharma companies likely don’t spend more money on marketing than research and development. When you consider business operations, as part of the sales, general, and administrative expenses (SG&A) for example, Pharma companies spend a lot of money detailing new drug developments to doctors through use of their sales force, which in turn allows physicians to be familiar and comfortable with new life-saving therapies.
But how do physicians, the actual prescribers of these therapies, feel about new drug development and how it impacts their practice? Do they agree with Francis, and think that money and time is wasted on new drugs that aren’t actually better than what they had before?
Looking at actual recorded office visits between HCPs and patients, the answer is more likely to be “NO”.
In an analysis of recent interactions between Oncologists and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and melanoma patients from the Verilogue database for example, it quickly becomes clear that the physicians who are treating these patients, have an opposing sentiment regarding new drug development than the one supported by Francis in his article.
Out of over 500 conversations between physicians and patients with NSCLC and melanoma recorded since December 2014, nearly 20% contain a mention of Opdivo or Keytruda, two examples of recently developed immunotherapies for treatment of these cancers. Of these, a vast majority are considered extremely positive discussions by Verilogue’s linguistic experts (myself included), in which physicians describe the two brands in such glowing terms as “very, very cutting edge type of treatment” and “wonderful drugs”.
In one particular case, an Oncologist went so far as support discussion of positive results using anecdotal experience like that of former president Jimmy Carter, who “had lesions in the brain and they disappeared, you know. So, he’s doing fabulous.”
Dr. Carl June, MD at the University of Pennsylvania agrees, and summarizes the field’s excitement in the video below.
It isn’t just physicians treating stage IV cancer that appear to feel this way, either. Rheumatologists and Dermatologists describe certain new biologic therapies as “new and exciting”, Neurologists describe certain recently developed antiepileptics as having “revolutionized treating people with seizures”, and Gastroenterologists sing the praises of new oral treatments that can “get rid of” the previously incurable hepatitis C.
These physicians clearly believe in the efficacy of new treatments, but also describe benefits to patients in terms of improved quality of life. For example, many of these new drugs actually have fewer side effects and risks than previous options, which can help patients live longer, happier lives. In fact, adults in the United States live a whopping 20 years longer on average since 1930, and it’s unlikely that new developments in pharmacological therapies has nothing to do with that increase.
Not all new drugs get the kind of glowing endorsement as demonstrated here. But, in reality the general sentiment appears to be that for those who are actually on the front lines of treating patients: new drug development = good for patients, even if marketing cost is a part of the equation.
Sarah Hendry is a Senior Analyst of linguistic insights and analytics at Verilogue. She holds a degree in Cognitive Science & Linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania, and is currently pursuing an MBA at the Fox School of Business at Temple University.