Journalist. Scrip magazine, associate editor, ca. 1997-2004.
Big Pharma: Exposing the Global Healthcare Agenda, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2006.
Author of the blog Big Pharma.
After covering the health-care industry for decades, British journalist Jacky Law made it the topic of her first book, Big Pharma: Exposing the Global Healthcare Agenda. In this volume she asserts that the growing influence of international pharmaceutical companies has been detrimental to medical care. Drug manufacturers, she says, make decisions about product development based on profit potential rather than medical necessity. According to Law, the companies are most eager to market treatments for sexual and emotional problems to affluent consumers. While not producing as many groundbreaking drugs as in the past, the industry has maintained revenues by adapting existing drugs and spending large sums on marketing. Although their marketing efforts are directed at doctors as well as patients, Law notes that the industry does little to encourage open doctor-patient communication.
Law also finds regulators to be too friendly to pharmaceutical firms. "The regulators and the industry that they are paid to regulate have been able to coexist rather too cozily for too long," she writes, adding: "Just finding experts with absolutely no connection with a drug to sit on the regulatory panels that decide whether a drug should get a licence is not easy." In her opinion, this may explain the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) approval of Vioxx, a painkiller with serious side effects, including heart attacks and strokes. She quotes FDA official David Graham as saying the approval of Vioxx was the "single greatest drug safety catastrophe in the history of this country or the world." Law recommends that governments devote more resources to testing drugs' safety and efficacy. "Drug companies should not be able to control clinical trials," she told Corinne A. Marasco, a contributor to Chemical & Engineering News. "Clinical trials should be more of an effort to assure the public that everything is aboveboard." She further suggests that clinical trials should compare new drugs to old ones, not to placebos, because of the familiar placebo effect in which patients believe a drug works simply because they want it to work. In addition to regulatory reform, Law calls for physicians and patients to ask probing, skeptical questions about prescription drugs and their effects. "Ordinary people can have an influence," she told Marasco.
Several reviewers found Law's book a well-argued yet not overstated critique of the industry. Reg Birchfield and Ian F. Grant in the journal New Zealand Management praised it as "a very readable, comprehensively researched, dispassionate account of how the world's major drug companies control the ‘illness’ agenda." Lancet contributor Richard Barnett remarked that Law, while finding much fault with drugmakers, holds the public accountable as well, as patients, doctors, and others have made "free choices" that have allowed the industry to become so powerful. Marasco noted that in urging more stringent regulation of pharmaceutical giants, Law "isn't anti-big business" but is simply encouraging businesses and regulators to better serve consumers.
Several critics noted Big Pharma's unflattering depiction of its subject. The book offers a "devastating indictment" of the drug business, commented Phillip Knightley in London's Sunday Times. To James Swanton, reviewing for Library Journal, the book was "an eye-opening study in commercial/public/private corruption." A contributor to Management Today, who deemed Law's work "a must-read," further observed that "her arguments are compelling and her conclusions disturbing." Knightley, however, saw reason for optimism in the pharmaceutical field. "The final picture is not without hope," he wrote, pointing out that patients are already taking advantage of Internet resources to learn more about health issues and treatments. "We need to seize back control of our medical destinies," he concluded, "and this book's great strength is that it inspires us to do just that."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 2006, Donna Chavez, review of Big Pharma: Exposing the Global Healthcare Agenda, p. 13.
British Medical Journal, March 18, 2006, Ike Iheanacho, review of Big Pharma, p. 672.
California Bookwatch, May 1, 2006, review of Big Pharma.
Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, December 1, 2006, L.B. McHenry, review of Big Pharma, p. 676.
Lancet, May 13, 2006, Richard Barnett, "Drug Pushers?," p. 1568.
Library Journal, March 15, 2006, James Swanton, review of Big Pharma, p. 92.
Management Today, February 7, 2006, "Books: Big Pharma in Big Trouble," p. 31.
New Zealand Management, June 1, 2006, Reg Birchfield and Ian F. Grant, "Ideas with Clout," p. 19.
Pharmaceutical Technology Europe, March 1, 2006, review of Big Pharma, p. 12.
Sunday Times (London, England), February 12, 2006, Phillip Knightley, "Big Pharma Is Worse than You Think," p. 51.
Chemical & Engineering News,http://pubs.acs.org/ (June 19, 2006), Corinne A. Marasco, "The Price of Hope."