A senior executive with Britain’s biggest drugs company has admitted that most prescription medicines do not work on most people who take them.
Allen Roses, worldwide vice-president of genetics at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), said fewer than half of the patients prescribed some of the most expensive drugs actually derived any benefit from them.
It is an open secret within the drugs industry that most of its products are ineffective in most patients but this is the first time that such a senior drugs boss has gone public.
“The vast majority of drugs – more than 90 per cent – only work in 30 or 50 per cent of the people,” Dr Roses said. “I wouldn’t say that most drugs don’t work. I would say that most drugs work in 30 to 50 per cent of people. Drugs out there on the market work, but they don’t work in everybody.”
Some industry analysts said Dr Roses’s comments were reminiscent of the 1991 gaffe by Gerald Ratner, the jewellery boss, who famously said that his high street shops are successful because they sold “total crap”. But others believe Dr Roses deserves credit for being honest about a little-publicised fact known to the drugs industry for many years.
Dr Roses said doctors treating patients routinely applied the trial-and-error approach which says that if one drug does not work there is always another one. “I think everybody has it in their experience that multiple drugs have been used for their headache or multiple drugs have been used for their backache or whatever.
“It’s in their experience, but they don’t quite understand why. The reason why is because they have different susceptibilities to the effect of that drug and that’s genetic,” he said.
“Neither those who pay for medical care nor patients want drugs to be prescribed that do not benefit the recipient. Pharmacogenetics has the promise of removing much of the uncertainty.”
Therapeutic area: drug efficacy rate in per cent
- Alzheimer’s: 30
- Analgesics (Cox-2): 80
- Asthma: 60
- Cardiac Arrythmias: 60
- Depression (SSRI): 62
- Diabetes: 57
- Hepatits C (HCV): 47
- Incontinence: 40
- Migraine (acute): 52
- Migraine (prophylaxis)50
- Rheumatoid arthritis50
- Schizophrenia: 60