Socialize Big Pharma

Analysis piece originally published by Jacobin magazine and syndicated in Salon on 29 June, 2013. 

The pharmaceutical industry, like oil companies and arms manufacturers, isn’t viewed highly in the public imagination.

And for good reason. There is growing awareness of an inherent conflict of interest in the testing of drugs by the companies that manufacture them — like Pfizer, Merck and Eli Lilly — and a steady stream of tales from journalists, researchers and doctors of deliberately dodgy trials, buried unfavorable results, and purchased academic journals.

Yet the greatest crime of the world’s major private pharmaceutical companies is not what they do, but what they don’t do. In the ongoing war against bugs and infection, these companies have abandoned their posts at the most critical time: when the enemy is mounting its most ferocious attack in generations. As these firms continue to shirk their duties — effectively abandoning antibiotic research for some 30 years now — senior public health officials are warning that the world could soon return to the pre-antibiotic era, a miserable, fearful time that few people alive now remember. Continue reading →

Advertisements

The TB drugs don’t work

This article was originally published on the Nature News blog on 17 October, 2012. 

The good news is that tuberculosis prevention efforts appear to have broken the back of the spread of the disease, according to the World Health Organisation’s latest annual report on the scourge, with new cases of TB falling by 2.2% between 2010 and 2011. The mortality rate has decreased 41% since 1990 and access to TB care has expanded considerably since the mid nineties, when tuberculosis was declared a global emergency by the UN body, with the WHO estimating that some 20 million lives have been saved since 1995. Continue reading →

Tuberculosis’ deadly return to Europe

Feature article appeared in the EUobserver on 15 February, 2010.

Vladimir appears as an unwrapped mummy, a skeleton of a man whose paper skin pulls taught over his Siberian bones. Top off, in stocking feet and navy Adidas track bottoms, he lies on his side as a nurse sponges the wounds left from the surgery he’s had to remove some ribs to let his one lung – the other also removed by the doctors – breathe more easily. He has an ancient sickness, tuberculosis, but his is a wretched new mutation of the disease that now seems impervious to almost all of mankind’s very much ageing weapons against it.

The 50-year-old former oil driller from Strezhevoy, a Rosneft company town in the far northwest of the Tomsk Oblast, is nevertheless surprisingly upbeat and chatty. “I suppose I’ll never run a marathon now,” he jokes, “I just wish I could at least walk a few metres without losing my breath.”

He’s been in the Tomsk TB hospital undergoing treatment for a disease against which very few drugs work at all for four years now. He complains that four years is a long time for a hospital whose library doesn’t have much of a selection, but he’s happy his wife has not left him “as, you know, it happens a lot in Russia,” and that she and his children come to visit. Continue reading →