We have often talked about GSK in recent months, now we are talking about a manager who, in 2003, reminded the world of the effectiveness of drugs in modern industry. A pharmacogenomical luminary that died in 2016, Dr. Allen Roses, who among many positions was world vice president of the genetics division for the GSK. Let us repeat: a senior executive of the UK largest pharmaceutical company has admitted that most prescription-only medicines do not work for most people who take them.
Dr. Roses was not only working with GSK, with whom he worked for 10 years. He also founded a pharmaceutical company, Zinfandel, a professor of genetics at Duke University, and discovered the role of APOE4 in the genesis of Alzheimer’s disease. Someone who understood something about medicine and research, and reading testimonies from friends, also seemed a good person.
Of course when you’re dead they say nice things about you, but it’s not always so obvious.
Here is a 1993 photo that portrays him with a future Nobel Prize for Medicine, Stan Prusiner (he discovered prions and not only). Dr. Roses is the one on the right.
“The vast majority of medicines, more than 90 percent, only work in 30 or 50 percent of people. I would not say that most of them do not work, I would say that most of them work in 30-50% of people.
From an economic point of view, everyone works in the market. But on the human body this is not the case. Drugs for Alzheimer‘s disease work in less than one in three patients, while those for cancer are only effective in a quarter of patients. Drugs for migraine, osteoporosis, and arthritis work in about half of patients. Most drugs however work in less than 50% patients mainly because the recipients carry genes that interfere in some way with the drug.
Physicians who treat patients systematically apply the trial-and-error approach which says that if one drug does not work, there is always another. I think everyone has had the experience of using more drugs for headaches or more drugs for backaches or more. This is in their experience, but they don’t understand why. It happens because patients have different susceptibility to the effect of that drug and this is genetic.
Neither those who pay for medical care nor patients want drugs to be prescribed that do not benefit the recipient. Pharmacogenetics has the promise to eliminate much of the uncertainty.”
But why did Dr. Roses present himself so candidly at that very moment in 2003? A law had just been passed whereby the prices of medicines rose exorbitantly, 50% more in the last 3 years! Raising the cost to the taxpayer to £7.2 billion a year, and GSK alone had just announced that it would have 20 new drugs ready from which it could earn $1 billion for each of them.
In addition, looking at it with his long eye, he fought to increase research and spending on “customized” drugs based on genetic testing. You will have made this statement certainly to throw water at your mill, but at the same time you have exposed a big problem with the drugs, and why people are actually reluctant to take them.
There have been those who “Dr. Roses did a gaffe” as there have been those who “Dr. Roses was honest.” Looking at the evidence and facts, I would say that the second option is the one that comes closest to common sense and reality.
This goes against an industry marketing culture that has relied on selling as many drugs as possible to as many patients as possible, a culture that has made GSK one of the most profitable pharmaceutical companies, but which has also ensured that most of its drugs are at best useless, and at worst deadly, to many patients.
What do you think about Dr. Roses words?