Big Pharma’s biggest scare – Placebos cure better than their new drugs

Steven Hodson

There is an 800 pound elephant in the boardroom of all the big pharma corporations and it consists of nothing more than milk sugar in the shape of a pill – otherwise known as The Placebo. This little pill has drug companies running scared because it is beginning to cure people better than all the fancy new drugs that they are testing and in some cases is doing better than long established drugs.

From 2001 to 2006 the percentage of new drugs cut from development during Phase II trials, which is where the new drugs are first tested against placebos, rose by 20 percent. When it came to the Phase III trials increased by 11 percent, mainly because of poor showing against placebos. Even with all the millions poured into R&D by the drug companies the US Food and Drug Administration approved only 19 first of their kind drugs in 2007. This was the fewest drugs ever approved by the FDA since 1983 and this didn't change in 2008 which only saw 24 drugs approved.

Even when it comes to the old standby drugs like Prozac are failing in more recent tests to prove themselves to be any better that those sugar pills. It was also found out through two extensively analyzed antidepressant trials that there has been a dramatic increase in the placebo response since the 1980s. Drug developers don't believe that it is a matter of the drugs getting weaker but more that the placebo effect is getting stronger.

In serious studies of this placebo effect researchers are finding that the body's response to certain types of medication is in constant flux and can be affected by conditioning, beliefs, expectations of treatment, and social cues. William Potter, now VP at Merck, found that geographical variations could affect the placebo effect.

For instance, the geographic variations in trial outcome that Potter uncovered begin to make sense in light of discoveries that the placebo response is highly sensitive to cultural differences. Anthropologist Daniel Moerman found that Germans are high placebo reactors in trials of ulcer drugs but low in trials of drugs for hypertension—an undertreated condition in Germany, where many people pop pills for herzinsuffizienz, or low blood pressure. Moreover, a pill's shape, size, branding, and price all influence its effects on the body. Soothing blue capsules make more effective tranquilizers than angry red ones, except among Italian men, for whom the color blue is associated with their national soccer team—Forza Azzurri!

Source – Wired :: Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why.

For instance, the geographic variations in trial outcome that Potter uncovered begin to make sense in light of discoveries that the placebo response is highly sensitive to cultural differences. Anthropologist Daniel Moerman found that Germans are high placebo reactors in trials of ulcer drugs but low in trials of drugs for hypertension—an undertreated condition in Germany, where many people pop pills for herzinsuffizienz, or low blood pressure. Moreover, a pill's shape, size, branding, and price all influence its effects on the body. Soothing blue capsules make more effective tranquilizers than angry red ones, except among Italian men, for whom the color blue is associated with their national soccer team—Forza Azzurri!

Source – Wired :: Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why.

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