If I had more money than morals, the first thing I'd do is plough every last red cent of mine into a drug company. No other profession, to my mind, has such total success in inventing a dubious solution, manufacturing the market to peddle it to and, in the process, creating another - this time with a genuine problem (necessitating yet another of their 'solutions').
Take statin drugs. Their success is nothing less than revelatory. In the final decades of the 20th century, the public had been well primed by the notion (largely implanted in its collective mind by the drug companies) that high blood cholesterol levels were the cause of heart disease, an association that has never been proven.
After the market for cholesterol-lowering was 'created', patients were then experimented on, using a range of mostly useless drugs. Then, in 1987, the drug companies alighted upon a wonder drug. Statin drugs did indeed seem to lower cholesterol.
First, invent the problem, then produce the magic bullet.
A scant 15 years later, statins have become one of the biggest moneyspinning drugs of all time.
Although they've made a goodly number of people rich, what statins have singularly failed to do is solve the problem of heart disease. Although they seem to have some beneficial properties, these effects are modest. Far more worrying is the growing evidence indicating their role in causing heart failure.
One of the few doctors brave enough to point the finger at statins is Dr Peter Lansjoen, a cardiologist from Tyler, Texas. Lansjoen has put together astonishing evidence that statins block coenzyme Q10, which is essential for the smooth running of the muscles of the heart (see p 9). When this enzyme is deficient over the long-term, it can cause serious problems with heart rhythm and, eventually, heart failure.
According to Lansjoen, during his 17 years of practice as a cardiologist, he has seen a 'frightening increase' in heart failure after statin usage. Currently, he sees two or three new cases of what he calls 'statin cardiomyopathy' every week.
Heart failure has surged to epidemic proportions in Western countries during the 15 years of statin use. In the US alone, 4.8 million Americans are diagnosed with the condition, and half of them will die within five years. This represents a doubling of cases and a fourfold increase in heart-disease-related deaths in the US.
'Are we causing this epidemic through our zealous use of statins?' Lansjoen writes. 'In large part, I think the answer is yes.'
Lansjoen claims that the medical establishment, well aware of the association, knowingly allowed this epidemic to grow. Indeed, there are already several patents combining CoQ10 with statins.
Another problem with blocking CoQ10 is that it interferes with the brain's performance, causing memory loss and muddled thinking in general. In an elderly person, this kind of side-effect is almost invariably passed off as age-related dementia, requiring yet another coterie of new wonder drugs.
You have to hand it to this business. I can think of no other that can continually create its own markets by setting off new health epidemics, which pave the way for yet more new bestselling miracle drugs. It's like continually eating your own hand - a sort of self-sufficiency only achieved by certain lower lifeforms. Unscrupulous investors take note.