Rethinking Healthcare

New promises from old drug bottles

Posting in Cancer

There is new hope in old drug bottles, and new reasons why more people should be adding branded, prescription drugs to their daily routine. Or is there?

Avodart won't just shrink your prostate. It can prevent prostate cancer.

Crestor won't just lower your cholesterol number. It will prevent a heart attack.

There is new hope in old drug bottles, and new reasons why more people should be adding branded, prescription drugs to their daily routine.

Or is there?

The first paragraph follows the result of a multi-year study. Avodart has not yet been approved for guys with normal-sized prostate glands. The second paragraph is an FDA action, one bound to be followed by studies aimed, like that on Avodart, at expanding markets.

Seen from the point of view of health reform, both these studies are disquieting. An ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of cure, but eventually we're buying pounds of prevention and something's still going to grab us and demand a cure.

And what about the side effects?

Just as the FDA was approving low doses of Crestor it was attacking high doses of another statin drug, genetic simvastatin. Patients taking 80 mg./day of simvastatin, whose brand name was Zocor, were warned about rhabdomyolysis, a nasty breakdown of muscle tissue that can lead to kidney damage.

As to Avodart, while we have studies showing a lower risk of prostate cancer, we don't yet have proof that less death results from taking it. This is one of the nastier cancer truths that was wildly controversial a few months ago -- less cancer, or cured cancer, does not necessarily mean less death.

Besides, all sorts of things seem to have a therapeutic effect on cancer and other death-dealing disease processes.

Did you know mango has been shown to prevent certain types of cancer in lab tests? Sounds great, until you learn the National Mango Board commissioned the study.

Which is another problem with this race to ingest. The money to prove all this new science is coming from folks with an axe to grind. Even honest scientists are going to lean toward finding what the sponsors like, just as Democratic pollsters lean Democratic and I have a soft spot in my heart for the good people at IBM.

All of which means the umpire's role, in this case the role of the FDA, becomes ever-more important. You can say this or that prevents this or that. But can you prove it's cost-effective? If you can't, we may never be able to control health care costs.

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure