Big Pharma is bad

Who doesn't want a long, healthy life? The pharmaceutical industry develops, tests and sells the means that are supposed to guarantee this. But the physician Peter C. G√łtzsche considers the current system to have failed. The Dane worked for pharmaceutical manufacturers himself, then switched sides and now heads the Nordic Cochrane Center in Copenhagen. In his book "Fatal Medicine and Organized Crime" he criticizes the industry heavily.

SZ.de: It was recently discovered that a company in India falsified data in order to make studies for international pharmaceutical companies look better. They claim that the pharmaceutical industry itself manipulates studies. But you make further serious accusations to the industry. You even talk about organized crime and the mafia.

Peter C. G√łtzsche: Yes, the world's largest drug manufacturer Pfizer, for example, paid $ 2.3 billion in the USA in 2009 after a lawsuit over the illegal marketing of drugs. GlaxoSmithKline was even willing to pay $ 3 billion in 2011 to end a drug fraud lawsuit. At Abbot it was 1.5 billion, Eli Lilly paid 1.4 billion, Johnson & Johnson 1.1 billion. The other large companies had sums in the double and triple-digit million range. It was always about fraud and misleading, bribery or marketing unauthorized means.

These crimes meet the criteria for organized crime, so one can speak of the mafia. In a 2010 trial against Pfizer, the jury explicitly stated that the company had violated the so-called Rico Law against Organized Crime for a period of ten years.

What about Roche? This is missing from your list.

In 2009, this company sold the flu drug Tamiflu to the US and European countries for billions of euros and dollars. They wanted to use these supplies to arm themselves against a flu epidemic. However, Roche only published some of the efficacy studies. Due to public pressure, they have made the data accessible in the meantime. Accordingly, the remedy is even less useful than feared, but can cause serious side effects in some cases. In my opinion, the company committed the biggest theft of all time.

Aren't these violations by individual black sheep in some companies? And what about smaller companies?

In my research, I did not consider all small companies, but the most important ones. There are also of course a lot of decent people working in the pharmaceutical industry. There are even critics within the company. But these are not the ones who determine where to go. My concern is that the whole system with the way drugs are produced, marketed and monitored has failed.

They accuse the companies of pushing drugs onto the market even though they were harmful and even fatal for many patients.

There are a number of examples of this. The pharmaceutical companies are therefore even worse than the mafia. You kill a lot more people.

Can you give examples?

For example, pain relievers like Vioxx, which were known to pose a risk of heart attack and could lead to death. Vioxx came onto the market without sufficient clinical documentation, which is why Merck was on trial and had to pay $ 950 million in 2011.

Before it was taken off the market, the remedy was used for back pain, tennis elbow, and all kinds of ailments. Many patients would have been okay with paracetamol or even without medication - and now they are dead. That is a tragedy.

Scientists from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have estimated that Vioxx could have killed up to 56,000 patients in the United States. . .

The product has treated more than 80 million people in more than 80 countries. According to my estimates, therefore, there have been around 120,000 fatalities worldwide. And Pfizer's Celebrex, which is comparable to Vioxx, was administered to 50 million people worldwide by 2004, according to the company. So it should have killed around 75,000 patients by this year. The remedy is still prescribed for some diseases. Although Pfizer had to pay millions of dollars for misrepresenting study results on the product's safety.

Other examples of drugs that have been pushed onto the market in this way are slimming pills such as Redux and Pondimin, the epilepsy drug Neurontin, the antibiotic Ketek or the diabetes drug Avandia.

In your book you also point out particular problems with psychiatric drugs.

I guess the antipsychotic Zyprexa (Note d. Red .: Means for the treatment of schizophrenic psychoses) by Eli Lilly killed around 200,000 of the 20 million patients who have taken the drug worldwide. Studies on Alzheimer's patients have shown that out of a hundred patients treated with such atypical antipsychotics, there is one additional death. Although the studies concerned older patients, the examinations usually only lasted ten to twelve weeks. In real life, patients are usually treated for years. In addition, Zyprexa was often prescribed to the elderly, although it was not approved at all for dementia, Alzheimer's and depression. As a result, the company had to pay $ 1.4 billion for illegal distribution methods. Zyprex sales were $ 39 billion between 1996 and 2009, however.

Another group of psychotropic drugs, antidepressants, is also dangerous. Older patients do not cope well with these drugs. And drugs like Seroxat (Paxil) from GlaxoSmithKline are known to have increased the risk of suicide in children and adolescents. In addition, the authors of the main study of Seroxat in major depression in adolescents claimed it was effective and safe. But the results didn't prove it at all, as a review of the data showed.

The company then touted it as a drug for children, even though it was not approved for use. That was one of the reasons she had to pay $ 3 billion.

There are scientists who say again today that the risk of suicide for children and adolescents does not increase.

The FDA and other regulatory agencies around the world have apparently not convinced them, they are still warning against it. The last review by the Cochrane Collaboration on these agents also confirms that there are indications of an increased risk of suicide. More recent studies are being discussed. But for me there is no doubt that the risk is increased.