Monday, March 26, 2012

The Frustrating Reality of Drug Companies

One of the most shocking points that I found in Marcia Angell's book, The Truth About the Drug Companies, is how companies are creating "me-too" drugs. These drugs are essentially identical to other drugs already existing and are marketed to seem like they are lowering prices by offering alternatives and giving patients more options for viable drugs.  However, often the prices of these drugs are identical to their original drug. Additionally, since the active ingredients in the me-too drug are the same, with only the inactive ingredients differing, it is unlikely that a patient will find a significant change in reaction from one drug to the other. Angell notes that, "Seventy-seven percent of the pharmaceutical industry's output consisted of leftovers." This is a staggering percentage because this means that more effort is being put into reproducing existing drugs in new packagers rather than the creation of new, more inventive drugs.

In terms of how to fix the issue of the over-saturation of me-too drugs in the market, it is first important that patients learn about the truth and myths shrouding the generic brand drugs that they buy.  While it is not to say that one generic is better than another, at least if the public knew about the attention that is focused on rehashing old drugs rather than coming up with new solutions, it would be able to put pressure on congress to create reforms in legislation. The FDA needs to be strengthened so that it can create checks on the the pharmaceutical industry, and it also needs to create a more stringent regulations on the approval of similar drugs before entering the market.   The drug companies need pressure to create and fund more innovative solutions to new problems, instead of coasting and producing similar products for their own monetary benefit.


  1. I have to completely agree with you on this post. Me-too drugs are very frustrating to read about because I don't understand how drug companies can get away with this so easily. They are basically creating drugs that are the same as old ones that just went off patent and selling them at higher prices, yet marketing them in such a way that they seem better. In reality these drugs are not doing anything more beneficial to our health problems, whatever they may be, than the drugs that we were taking in the past did. The drug companies are able to market these new drugs by saying that they can now treat other things that the original drug was unable to treat. However this is not true and I totally agree that more people need to be informed about this situation and what is going on behind the scenes. If they were to know, I guarantee they would save a ton o money.

  2. The production of “me-too” drugs is certainly one of the very frustrating aspects about pharmaceutical companies. It’s even more frustrating how they can ensure their new products infiltrate the market. At the end of 2011, there was what is referred to as “an Adderall shortage. ” Adderall is a prescription drug used to treat ADHD. However, at the end of the year, pharmacies were not receiving enough to fill the quantity of prescriptions they received. There were a number of reasons provided for the shortage. Assuming I have my facts straight, one of the reasons was that the DEA limits how much pharmaceutical companies can produce in a given year, and they had already reached their quota before the end of the year. Another reason cites that pharmaceutical companies, in particular Shire, was not satisfying its end of the deal and failed to provide a sufficient quantity. They did so in an attempt to shift the market away from Adderall XR, which lost its patent in 2009, towards its more recent drug, Vyvanse. Profit seeking behavior can clearly be identified as a reason for why Shire might do this, assuming they did so. (See: ) Whether this story is credible or not is another issue, but other news sources seem to provide similar accounts (See: ) To me, what’s most frustrating is the amount of resources and energy being diverted, not just on the pharmaceutical company’s side, but on behalf of the consumers too.

  3. I completely agree with your post as well, but I think what frustrates me even more is the fact that many times physicians prescribe these expensive "me too” drugs over their cheaper original versions and generic versions to patients. I do not understand how physicians can ethically do this to their patients when they know that the therapeutic properties of the above (i.e. “me too,” original, and generic drugs) are all THE SAME. The reason physicians do it though is because they often times form alliances with pharmaceutical companies such that they receive a portion of the profit from each prescription they write for a “me too” drug that is filled. The fact that physicians profit off of these “me too” drugs is not ethical either.

    There need to be more strict policies and guidelines set by the FDA which prevent the production of “me too” drugs. This will obviously hurt the profit margins of big pharma, but what they are doing with their creation of the “me too” drugs isn’t ethical either. By doing this, physicians can then no longer prescribe the more expensive, novel, patented “me too” drugs.

  4. While there are many, many, reasons why "me-too" drugs are 'bad' (I won't get into it, as these reasons are seen in almost all of the posts+comments), this type of behavior coming from for-profit companies is in no way new. Repackaging old products as "New and Improved!" is a common practice, as consumers eat it up. These companies put billions of dollars into the development of these drugs, and hold on to their patents for dear life to make their money back for fear of being torn down by unhappy investors and shareholders. While it is true that these companies deal with huge sums of money, they are not as rich as people are led to believe, as they are put at tremendous risk every time a new idea is to be invested in. Since the Department of Defense is hemorrhaging federal funds into the military presence of the US all over the world, money for research in science has been declining at an alarming rate, which means these companies have to put even more of their own money into R&D. Not to sound like a horrible person, but if I were put in such a situation, I would try to squeeze every last dollar from any successful drug which made it through the pipeline. Why are pharma companies crucified for profit seeking behavior? Sure, the medicines are expensive, but where would we be without them? For all of the dubious influential behavior they exhibit (personally I think the fact that doctors get in on the profit is chilling), these companies have done a lot of good, which is severely overlooked.

    As a final note, I do agree that the drug development and subsequently the pipeline system could be improved, but the change cannot be forced upon the companies - if everyone thinks drugs should be cheaper/generics should be widespread/drugs should be subsidized to lower brand cost, why hasn't there been more money put into federally funded science? That seems like the only way for a benevolent pharmaceutical organization to exist.