New and Improved “Diseases” Launched by Drugmakers to Sell Drugs

Are drugmakers running out of familiar diseases to float to the public to sell drugs? (See: Have Drug; Need Patients!) Apparently so because Pfizer is now selling transthyretin amyloid cardiomyopathy in a new marketing campaign. Few can say it much less have ever heard of it. (Drugmakers call it ATTR-CM since they know that initialism sells—think “EPI”.)

What is ATTR-CM? It is a “rare, serious, underrecognized and underdiagnosed type of amyloidosis that affects the heart and is associated with heart failure,” says Pfizer.

Do you have fatigue, stomach issues, shoulder, hip and/or knee pain, swelling or numbness in your legs or shortness of breath? (Probably everyone at one time or another has.) Well, you may think they are nothing to worry about but you could actually be suffering from ATTR-CM and not know it. But—surprise!—Pfizer happens to have a drug to treat ATTR-CM.

Or maybe you have “GA”—another snappy drug initialism. GA or geographic atrophy is an advanced form of age-related macular degeneration, irreversible and linked to blindness. Do straight lines appear wavy? Do you require extra light to read? Do there seem to be missing spots in your vision? Don’t wait to see your doctor says the GA marketing campaign, because—again, surprise!—drugmaker Apellis happens to have a drug for this very condition!

Expensive Dangerous Drugs For Conditions That Barely Exist

Selling rare diseases—hypochondria!—to the general public makes money for almost everyone. Drugmakers no longer need reps, news outlets have bountiful, reliable advertisers and health care practitioners and their institutions have a steady stream of patients to whom they can give drugs that just happen to have been recently approved.

Scaring healthy people into believing they have “silent killer” diseases is bad enough but “unbranded” marketing that mentions neither the sponsoring company or the drug being sold (like the ATTR-CM ads) is even worse. Why? Because it appears that the messages are public service announcements from the CDC or FDA conveyed for your own good instead of messages transmitted for drugmaker profits. In the past, Pfizer would add at the end of a radio commercial that it sponsored the message but not so with its ATTR-CM campaign. The GA ads do acknowledge a “partnership” with the drugmaker Apellis, if anyone has heard of Apellis.

The Bastardization of Medicine for Money

Can anyone remember when medical care was designed to heal sick people not convince healthy people they are sick to make money? When patients were told “take two aspirins and call me in the morning” because normal, healthy people do not need to be treated—a practice which is against the very ethos of medicine? Direct-to-consumer, “Ask Your Doctor” ads changed that forever. And drugmaker greed has also allowed misinformation from mainstream medical sources to go unchecked.

Consider this recent news flash from King’s College in London that antidepressants—primarily SSRIs—may prevent Covid-19 deaths. A new indication for already approved drugs is a drug maker bonanza, bestowing a new lease on profits at no cost to the drugmaker.

For example, semaglutide, the expensive diabetes drug which has become a blockbuster weight loss drug for people who overeat, was similarly floated as a treatment for addiction—at least until it was linked to suicide. Oops. Sorry about that.

There was only one problem with the SSRI/Covid-19 research that could double drugmaker money. One of the research’s authors, Marina Sirota, served as a scientific advisor at Aria Pharmaceuticals and the author of a related SSRI/Covid-19 piece (both appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association) Dr. Nicolas Hoertel is linked to the biomedical drugmaker Lundeck and inventor on a patent application for COVID-19 treatment methods according to MedPage Today. Who can say conflict of interest?

Convincing healthy people they need expensive, dangerous drugs has two other pernicious effects beside harming the healthy and sowing hypochondria: it raises all of our healthcare costs and taxes and it functions as de facto news censorship—what news station will report on the dangers or risks of a drug it is personally advertising?

 

 

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).