by Shane Ellison, M.S | ecohearth
As a medicinal chemist, I tried to ignore my suspicion that an insidious and deliberate conspiracy to get each and every American hooked on drugs, while at the same time bankrupting them, existed between Big Pharma and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
I enjoyed my work. Drug design paid well and kept me comfortably isolated in a high-tech lab, fully equipped to help me bend and twist matter at will. The last thing I wanted to think of was a plot designed to sabotage health and wealth—while causing untold ecological damage—using my chemistry skills. But over time, experience confirmed my suspicion as fact and revealed something even scarier.
Deadly Profiteering My passion for drug design arose from the miracle of emergency medicine, one of humankind’s greatest scientific achievements. Sadly though, medicine is no longer exclusive to emergency use. Today it’s being used in a deadly game of profiteering. Herein lies a story of deceit and a chemist’s abandonment of modern medicine.
My doubts about modern medicine began while I was employed by Eli Lilly to design a new generation of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) drugs, a class which includes tamoxifen and raloxifene. Initially, they were thought to block estrogen receptors and thereby halt breast cancer. As time progressed, it was learned that they were also capable of activating estrogen receptors and boosting cancer growth. The Journal of the American Medical Association recognized this trend and published, “Our data add to the growing body of evidence that recent long-term use of HRT is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer and that such use may be related particularly to lobular tumors.”
My task was made clear: Design HRT ‘knock-offs’ that are effective without causing cancer. My attempt to design safer alternatives began with small alterations to the two-dimensional structure of tamoxifen. It was unsuccessful. All chemical cousins acted as cancer fertilizer and after one year, the project was ended. Access to tamoxifen and other HRT meds, however, was not. Despite its ability to inflame cancer, tamoxifen continued to be used as the Gold-Standard in breast cancer treatment. As a young naïve chemist, I was determined to learn how such a dangerous drug could get through the prestigious FDA approval process.
Checkbook Science Tamoxifen was developed by British company Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), whose pharmaceutical division was later spun off as Astra Zeneca. Knowing that “demand drives drug approval,” ICI established—in partnership with the American Cancer Society–National Breast Cancer Awareness Month!
Fueled by fear, women worldwide began pushing for more choices in cancer drugs, and in Big Pharma language, that means more drug approvals. Tamoxifen demand was successfully created and expanded every subsequent year thanks to ICI’s self-serving pink ribbon campaign. But, how did tamoxifen sail past the protective blood-brain barrier of the FDA? A quick lesson in statistical contortionism shows how.
Just like chemists manipulate the properties of matter, Big Pharma manipulates studies using “checkbook science.” This allows them to pay for both the design and the interpretation of clinical trials. Tamoxifen studies, for example, were conveniently stopped at just five years, the minimum amount of time required for cancer to develop. This successfully hid the drug’s cancer causing problem. But just like their pink campaigns, there’s even more stink to be found.