Page 147 from "Our Daily Meds" by Melody Petersen
Mr. Jones said that over the years he had grown disturbed by the rising number of unethical practices he observed. "As the industry learned how effective it could be in stretching demand, it began to drift away from its ethical moorings," he testified. As an example, he described how Abbott had decided to market a drug to patients suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease, even though the company's scientists had little reason to believe it would help them. The disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, is a cruel and fatal one; patients rapidly lose control of their muscles until they are paralyzed.
Abbott's executives, he said, saw the plan to market the drug to ALS patients as "a solution to a short-term revenue problem." One of their analyses, he said, estimated that it would take about six months for doctors to see the drug was not working for their patients. The executives estimated the plan would be worth millions of dollars to the company even though ALS is rare. This is because Abbott was charging each patient about ten thousand dollars for the drug, which was known as thyrotropin releasing hormone or simply TRH. There had originally been a reason for that high price, Mr. Jones explained. At first, employees had made the hormone by hand. But in 1985 the company's chemists had found a way to manufacture the drug more cheaply, so the price could be dropped sharply to two thousand dollars for each patient.
"The task force working on TRH was called together for a meeting," Mr. Jones testified. "Company doctors and scientists gathered around the table with enthusiasm at finally being about to lower the price...But marketing executives asked why we would want to do that. Someone even said that we should not worry about the price because neighbors would hold garage sales to raise money for those with ALS. The people in the room were stunned."
Mr. Jones said he later met with the executive in charge of marketing of the drug and asked that the company lower the price and stop using publicity to recruit ALS patients to a clinical trial. The patients in the trial had to pay for the medicine even though they were helping the company test a product. "My recommendations were met with a blank stare," he said. "They were not acknowledged or discussed."
Soon afterward Mr. Jones answered a call to this office. On the line was a social worker in a small town in Arkansas who pleaded for the company to provide TRH to a family that could not afford it. The father of the family had just died of cancer, the social worker explained, and now a son had been diagnosed with ALS.
"I ended up repeating eventually the party line -- that it was just so expensive to make," Mr. Jones testified. "It's not true. Not long afterwards, I left the company and the industry."
"These practices are commonplace in the industry," he continued, "and the industry works hard to hide what it is doing. Drug companies have institutionalized deception."