Donald Trump has insisted that Plaquenil/hydroxychloroquine will cure COVID-19. The drug is commonly used to malaria, as well as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. While there have been some successful results with drug after treating patients infected by the novel coronavirus, there's just not enough reliable information available right now.
But the President's endorsement of the drug has caused a bit of panic around it. First, there are people who have died after mistakenly taking related drugs. Now, according to Buzzfeed News, so healthcare providers are refusing to give the drug to people with conditions that it has been proven to treat:
A 45-year-old woman with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) said she received an online message from her health care provider stating it will no longer refill her vital hydroxychloroquine prescriptions because that drug is being used to treat the "critically ill with COVID-19," the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
It gets worse. Here's the kicker:
The letter thanked her for her "sacrifice."
A sacrifice, it should be noted, that she had no choice in making — if it's even a sacrifice that actually works.
Like Alabama denying treatment to people with "severe mental retardation," it seems that all the conservative fearmongering around the made-up "Obamacare Death Panels" is finally coming true under the Trump Administration's handling of the coronavirus epidemic.
A Woman With Lupus Said Her Health Care Provider Is Stopping Her Chloroquine Prescription And Thanked Her For The “Sacrifice” [Tanya Chen and Dan Vergano / Buzzfeed News]
What We Know — and Don’t Know — About Possible Coronavirus Treatments Promoted by Trump [Charles Ornstein / ProPublica]
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The head of the pharmaceutical company that makes EpiPens raised the price of the life-saving device by over 400%. She was rewarded with a 671% raise. Read the rest
Yesterday, former hedge fund manager Martin Shkreli (above) was in the news for jacking up the price of a drug called Daraprim from $13.50 per tablet to $750 per tablet. He went on Bloomberg to explain why he thinks a pill that costs less than $1 to manufacture should cost $750. He said that even at that price, "Daraprim is still underpriced relative to its peers." He then went onto Twitter to live up to his douchebag reputation by behaving like a douchebag - calling a journalist a moron for asking Shkreli why he increased the price of the medication, which helps people with compromised immune systems.
Today, Shkreli's Twitter account is closed to everyone but confirmed followers. He also said he would reduce the cost of Daraprim to "to allow the company to break even or make a smaller profit," according to NBC.
"Yes it is absolutely a reaction — there were mistakes made with respect to helping people understand why we took this action, I think that it makes sense to lower the price in response to the anger that was felt by people," Shkreli said, 32.
Jeremy Stahl at Slate says this isn't the first time Shkreli has gouged sick people:
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When Shkreli was CEO of Retrophin, the company purchased a kidney medication approved by the FDA in 1988 called Thiola and increased the cost from $1.50 per pill to $30 per pill. That drug treated cystinuria, a lifelong disease for which there is no known cure and which afflicts about 20,000 patients in the United States.
Martin Shkreli (above) is a former hedge fund manager and the current CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals. In August Shkreli bought a drug called Daraprim. It's been around for 62 years and is used to treat toxoplasmosis, a life-threatening parasitic infection. "Turing immediately raised the price to $750 a tablet from $13.50, bringing the annual cost of treatment for some patients to hundreds of thousands of dollars," reports the New York Times.
It's fun to single out Shkreli for his questionable ethics, but plenty of other pharmaceutical companies also jack up the the price of formerly cheap drugs to levels that will bankrupt people who need them. The antibiotic Doxycycline was $20 a bottle in 2013. Today, the same bottle costs $1,849. Cycloserine, a tuberculosis treatment, used to cost $500 for a 30 pill bottle, until Rodelis Therapeutics acquired the drug and increased the price to $10,800.
As seen by his tweet last night, Shkreli's response to the overwhelmingly negative reaction to his price increase is basically "fuck you."
Watch Bloomberg's interview with Shkreli about his decision to raise the price. He admits it costs less than $1 a pill to manufacture Daraprim, yet insists at $750 a pill, "Daraprim is still underpriced relative to its peers." Read the rest
A new "tycoon"-style game offers a provocative look at the world of making people healthy for profit.
This is a really important long read that we all need to pay attention to. It concerns how we treat people with who are suffering from paranoid delusions — and how we treat people whose families worry that they are a threat to others. It concerns the relationships between doctors and the pharmaceutical industry. It concerns the ethics of clinical trials — the risks we run as we test potential treatments that could help many, or hurt a few, or both. If we want to reform mental health care, this needs to be part of the discussion.
In 2004, Dan Markingson committed suicide. The story behind that death is complicated and depressing. At the Molecules to Medicine blog, Judy Stone documents the whole thing in three must-read chapters. Many people find help in psychiatric drugs, and credit those drugs with making their lives better. (Full disclosure, I'm one of them. I have used Ritalin for several years. I am temporarily on an anti-depressant.) But we have to pay attention to how those drugs get to us. This isn't just about treating people. It's about the process that gets us there. Because, if that process is compromised, the treatments we get won't be as effective and lives will be lost along the way.
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Markingson began to show signs of paranoia and delusions in 2003, believing that he needed to murder his mother. He was committed to Fairview Hospital involuntarily after being evaluated by Dr. Stephen Olson, of the University of Minnesota. He was subsequently enrolled on a clinical trial of antipsychotic drugs—despite protests from his mother.
Psychiatry is "committing professional suicide" because psychiatrists are far too willing to accept gifts, food, trips, and free samples from the pharmaceutical companies that push psychiatric drugs, says psychiatrist David Healy. Worse, he says, those same drug companies have been caught hiding dangerous results from the FDA and doctors, covering up that malfeasance, and attempting to silence critics (including Healy himself). At Time's Healthland blog, Maia Szalavitz shows that Healy makes a persuasive case against the pharmaceutical giants and in favor of patients, doctors, and the federal government doing more to hold these companies accountable. Read the rest
A Nature Chemistry paper by researchers from the University of Glasgow describes a process for "printing" pharmaceutical compounds from various feedstocks, and supposes a future in which we have diagnosis/medication manufacturies at home. The process uses an off-the-shelf 3D printer technology to assemble pre-filled "vessels" in ways that create the desired chemical reaction in order to produce medicines. It's a scaled-down version of the industrial process used to manufacture drugs in bulk, and the paper's principal, Prof Lee Cronin, calls it "reactionware." From the BBC:
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"We can fabricate these reactionware vessels using a 3D printer in a relatively short time. Even the most complicated vessels we've built have only take a few hours.
"By making the vessel itself part of the reaction process, the distinction between the reactor and the reaction becomes very hazy. It's a new way for chemists to think, and it gives us very specific control over reactions because we can continually refine the design of our vessels as required.
"For example, our initial reactionware designs allowed us to synthesize three previously unreported compounds and dictate the outcome of a fourth reaction solely by altering the chemical composition of the reactor."
...Prof Cronin added: "3D printers are becoming increasingly common and affordable. It's entirely possible that, in the future, we could see chemical engineering technology which is prohibitively expensive today filter down to laboratories and small commercial enterprises.
"Even more importantly, we could use 3D printers to revolutionise access to health care in the developing world, allowing diagnosis and treatment to happen in a much more efficient and economical way than is possible now.
Failing to prevent pregnancy is a pretty big failure for a birth control pill. Pfizer is trying to avoid that outcome by recalling 1 million packets of potentially defective pills. What's the problem? Every packet contains 3 week's worth of birth control pills and a week's worth of sugar pills—basically to keep you in the habit of taking a pill every day even during your period week. Some of the defective packs don't contain enough sugar pills. That's not really a problem. In others, however, the actual birth control pills have been swapped for extra sugar pills. That's what Pfizer is worried about. The recall includes Pfizer Lo/Ovral-28 tablets and Akrimax Pharmaceuticals brand Norgestrel and Ethinyl Estradiol tablets. Read the rest
GlaxoSmithKline is financing a documentary about over-eating, in the hopes that it will boost sales of Alli—their over-the-counter drug that blocks your body from absorbing some of the fat you eat. (Fun game: Read the recent Science Question from a Toddler on poop and see if you can guess what the common side-effects are.)
Glaxo says they won't have control over the content of the film and won't even be pushing to make sure Alli gets mentioned. They simply want to educate Americans about the fact that they eat too much.
The partners say they hope to emulate "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore's celebrated 2006 documentary on climate change. It cost an estimated $1.5 million to produce and sold $50 million in tickets worldwide. Ms. Ferdinando summarized the film as "the 'Inconvenient Truth' of mindless eating," with the story taking a "behind-closed-doors, fly-on-the-wall" approach that highlights unhealthy relationships people have with food.
Artistically, the problem I see here is that successful documentaries—and really documentaries in general—are usually about challenging popular perception and either making a case for a viewpoint that's counter to "common-sense" or informing people about a situation that's mostly being ignored. The thesis "Fat People Eat Too Much" does not exactly fit into that mold.
New York Times: Glaxo, diet drug maker, to pay for film on eating
Image courtesy Flickr user yukariryu, via CC
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