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Rx for Brit Hume: Ask Some Hard Questions

Reported by Nancy - December 21, 2004 -

Last night (12/20), Brit Hume's interview segment was about the risks & benefits of drugs like Vioxx & Celebrex that have been in the news lately.

The program led off with reports from Jim Angle (Bush press conference), Bret Baier (Rumsfeld), Steve Harrigan (Iraq), Major Garrett (next DNC chair) & Molly Henenberg (troops celebrating the holidays in Afghanistan).

At 6:20pm (ET), Hume showed a clip from ABC's "This Week" with a Dr Graham talking about Vioxx, then interviewed Dr Scott Gottlieb, whom he said was a former senior FDA official, & now writes an investment newsletter (note: Hume did not mention that Gottlieb is also a fellow at the American Enterprise Inst, a right-wing think tank) about risks & benefits of COX-2 drugs. Hume pointed out that he's 61 years old, suffers from arthritis & has taken some of these drugs, so he's personally quite interested in the whole issue. Gottlieb made some common-sense observations (these drugs were designed for short-term, not long-term, use; there is no such thing as 100% safety) & suggestions (if you're concerned about risks of drugs you're taking, discuss it with your physician). Hume asked whether the FDA was over-reacting when it pulls drugs from the market, Gottlieb said better warning labels would help prevent problems [comment: neither one noted that the FDA is doing its job when it pulls drugs deemed to be a risk to the public, which should also be considered, imho, a good business practice].

General comment: Given Hume's personal stake in the issue & Gottlieb's experience with the regulatory side of drug development, I wish they had addressed related topics -- particularly how we in the US overmedicate ourselves & why the pharmaceutical industry is reaping obscene profits but not delivering on its alleged "mission" of developing new drugs. As Gottlieb himself noted in a 2003 article in The New Atlantis:

According to the pharmaceutical industry's calculation, its R&D investment doubled to an estimated $30.5 billion in 2001. Despite the increased effort, output as measured by the number of new drugs and biologics approved or submitted for approval has been steady or declining across almost every major therapeutic area. Meanwhile, if you look at the trend over the next five years, it is not likely to change dramatically. If the technology being brought to the task of drug development is so impressive, why haven't these innovations resulted in more new drugs being developed and approved? The answer is not so much technological as it is structural: some revolutions take time, and old ways of doing things die hard.

And as a Public Citizen study notes:

Brand name prescription drug makers have consistently been among the most profitable industries in America for decades. In 1998, pharmaceutical companies ranked first among all industries in rates of return on equity, assets, and revenues. CEOs of the top ten pharmaceutical companies last year averaged $20 million in annual compensation, including stock options, and now hold nearly $1 billion in stock options. The industry claims that high US prescription drug prices are necessary to fund research and development. But R&D is a lower priority than profits for the manufacturers. In 1998, the top ten firms put one-and-a-half times as much money into profits as into research and development. And not everyone pays high prices. Foreign consumers get US-made drugs at a fraction of the price paid by American senior citizens because their governments negotiate fair prices with prescription drug makers.

Still, the discussion was both informative & civil, & thus a boon on a Fox program.