In an extraordinary admission, a senior executive with UK drug giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has 'confessed' that the vast majority of prescription drugs don't work.
Dr Allen Roses, worldwide vice-president of genetics at GSK, has told a conference that over 90 per cent of all drugs work for only between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of patients.
At the very bottom of the efficacy table are the cancer drugs, which work on only 25 per cent of patients. These are closely followed by Alzheimer's drugs that work on just 30 per cent of people. Drugs for rheumatoid arthritis, migraine, incontinence, hepatitis C, and diabetes work on only half the patients, at best. The most effective drugs are the analgesics, which work for to 80 per cent of those who take them.
This frank admission is also a very shocking one, and for several reasons. The pharmaceutical industry is about the most profitable in the world, and its profits are generated by drugs that everyone has implicitly believed would work (everyone apart from regular E-news readers, that is). Worse, in this scramble for profits, around 105,000 Americans and 40,000 Britons die every year from an adverse reaction to a drug, and many thousands more are permanently harmed from one.
Almost as astonishing has been the reaction from some of Roses's industry colleagues. 'What he is saying will surprise the public, but not his colleagues,' said one industry scientist. Surprised may be a slight understatement for the reaction of families who have lost a member to a drug - and one that the manufacturer probably knew would not work.
So it's no surprise to the drug companies. Is it a surprise, perhaps, to the drugs regulators? Did they know that they were part of a scam? Or the government, maybe, that buys lb7.2bn of drugs each year for the National Health Service? Are they also aware that at least two-thirds of that enormous expenditure is an utter waste?
How about the doctors? They are writing millions of prescriptions a year. Did they notice that their patients just weren't getting any better?
Some commentators have described Roses's admission as a Ratner-like gaffe. For non-UK readers and those too young to remember, Gerald Ratner ran the UK's largest jewelers - until the day he 'joked' that his products were 'crap'.
But this was no Ratner moment. Roses knew full well what he was doing, and he almost certainly had his statement cleared by the very top executives at Glaxo. Roses has been described as a highly intelligent man, and he's certainly too smart to commit corporate suicide.
Roses is staking a major claim for his own division, into which Glaxo has poured billions of dollars of research money. Our guess is that Glaxo has taken the lead in the market, and will soon be launching a new approach to therapy, based on the patient's genetic make-up.
In this new treatment model, patients will first be tested to discover the effectiveness of a drug, and if they are among the 20 per cent for whom the drug will work.
By allowing Roses to blow the whistle, Glaxo is playing a very high-risk game. Genetic profiling may be achievable, but it will cut drugs production by up to 80 per cent, so eating into profits.
It may also not be a workable option, especially for an already overstretched health service.
What then? We are just left with the information that most drugs don't work. Which is pretty much where we at WDDTY came in.
* Following on from Dr Roses's admission, you really must read the WDDTY book Secrets of the Drugs Industry. It lifts the lid on the drugs that don't work, those that are dangerous, and how the drugs industry masks its aggressive sales drives with supposed science. To order your copy, click on this link: http://www.wddty.co.uk/shop/details.asp?product=341