July 14, 2024

Setting record straight: Pharmaceuticals

This archived article was written by: Nathaniel Woodward

No matter how you may feel about the world we live in, the fact is that it’s a pretty awesome time to be alive. If you had shown an iPad to my great-grandfather who was born in the late 19th century, he would have lost his mind and that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of where science is today. Arguably the most impactful advances we as a species have made are our leaps forward in modern medicine by the development of new pharmaceuticals.
For millennia, our ancestors, when confronted with illness and injury, used the scientific method to test new substances for their effectiveness and healing properties. For example, the Greeks used the bark of certain willow tree’s as a pain reliever which we know contained the same compounds used in common over-the-counter medicines.
While the scientific process remains the same, the difference between then and now are highly advanced technologies we utilize in creating compounds to potentially treat or cure ailments thought untreatable only a few years ago.
The mystery surrounding the process of developing new treatments or “drugs” led to an outcry among many who lack the tools to uncover how much work goes into making sure a drug is not only effective, but safe.
The side-effects of many common treatments was the biggest obstacle to overcome when wanting to treat an ailment, often these side-effects are mild, however, in rare-instances, severe complications can arise leading to unfortunate situations. Being able to look beyond a side-effect to what a drug has done is the first step in beginning to understand the process. When a new drug is effective, like penicillin, the impact is immediate.
Possibly, the dark underbelly of the field comes from the enormous costs of creating a new drug. While the politics of private versus public-sector science wages on, the reality is that if a drug cannot make a company money, it simply will not be invented. The plague of antibiotic resistance is a testament to this harsh truth.
The pharmaceutical industry is a $365 billion a year money machine, but with the understanding that it costs over $2.6 billion to roll out a new drug from beginning to pharmacy, sheds a light on the obstacles the company’s face. Out of 25 potential new drugs, only five will make it to market, that’s a big investment on almost no return.
So while scumbags like Martin Skhreli control drug prices, science suffers. While people push “natural” or “essential” cures, science suffers and while an industry runs amok with fiscal bottom lines continues to self regulate what they feel they should focus on, science suffers.
I’m not entirely deriding all alternative treatments as far as they don’t purport to replace proven methods, remember this, just because something has the same “active ingredient” as a pharmaceutical doesn’t make it a wise replacement. Dosage is everything.
Unfortunately in the age of social media, a small but vocal pushback began against the science of developing new treatments spearheaded by those in fear of some imagined villainy bent on the removal of one’s good health.
The sad reality is that their motivation isn’t truly on the health of the general public, but on the small financial kickback they receive from “natural” or “essential” treatment corporations not regulated by any agency or scientific process. While this minority continues to wail and gnash their teeth normally in the name of business, science continues its march forward paying little attention. Evidence always wins out, eventually.