Drug companies hype the prevalence and seriousness of illnesses to market a new drug, a leading pharmaceutical executive has admitted. His comments come at a time when the drugs cartel is trying to loosen the controls that currently prevent them from advertising directly to the patient.
The whistle was blown by Fred Nadjarian, the managing director of Roche in Australia, who cited, as an example, the marketing of Manerix (moclobemide), an antidepressant designed to treat 'social phobia'.
Roche launched the drug with the news that one million Australians suffered a 'soul-destroying' psychiatric disorder called social phobia. Mr Nadjarian claims to have seen through the hype created by the company when he found it difficult recruit hardly anyone into the clinical trial. The true extent of the problem was far smaller than his company had claimed, he said.
The example highlights a much wider problem. 'If you added up all the statistics, we all must have about 20 diseases. A lot of these things are blown out of all proportion,' says Nadjarian.
Drug companies often sponsor publicity for a disease for which they have a drug. Academics can also fall into the same trap, and use hyperbole to draw attention to their own research.
'Behind every statistic, there is a vested interest,' Mr Nadjarian added (BMJ, 2002; 324: 867).