December 10, 2007
Paula Wittekind, Advocacy Coordinator
Profit Over Common Sense
Andy Grove Speaks to Society for Neuroscience
The Society for Neuroscience invited Intel Co-founder Andy Grove to speak at their conference on November 4, 2007. Mr. Grove has been diagnosed with a mild form of Parkinson’s, and as all patients do who study updated information about the possibilities of new treatments or even a cure , eventually realized that those chances are not as great as research literature would have one think.
Being an exceptionally successful business leader himself, Mr. Grove tackled the difficult factors involved in moving a treatment through the pipeline by comparing it to what he knows well – the computer chip industry. Initially, when Newsweek.com released a preview of what his talk would be about at the Society for Neuroscience Conference and presented it online as a” scathing review “of the medical research and development industry, bloggers blasted Grove, not so much in the Newsweek comments, as on other related technology and medical/research blogs.
For a few days, the criticism continued, one blogger declaring that Mr. Grove is just a very wealthy and spoiled man, who thinks he can buy himself a cure. If that were true, there would be no diseases in the world, as Andy Grove is only one of many wealthy people in the world.
Andy Grove was being generous when he said treatment development is like a train that leaves and doesn’t return for 10 years. For neurological diseases, and probably others that I am less familiar with, it’s more like 14 years or more. All the while, article after article is published with new findings that mean little for patients now. The facts remain that each innovative treatment must be tested pre-clinically with animals and then in humans, as well as pass through the FDA. This “speed of turn-around” as referred to by Grove, is unacceptable to a person with a serious, chronic, life-threatening illness.
Mr. Grove is not suggesting that safety be sacrificed. He is suggesting that treatments not be abandoned because arbitrary percentages of improvement are not met, when there is evidence of safety and efficacy.
This is common sense. But common sense in the drug development process, until proven differently to me, is defined by profit gained, not human lives.
Thus Andy Grove suggests that mistakes should be thoroughly evaluated and when there is evidence remaining that the drug is working [common sense tells me that patients are the best resources for describing or demonstrating their improvement], dig down and learn from the study abnormalities before calling them failures and continue the research; do not prematurely condemn a drug that could save millions from suffering.
Throwing away a treatment that could work for many goes against common sense, unless profit overrules common sense.
Andy Grove’s final suggestion was to rebalance and restructure the NIH (National Institutes of Health) funding for medical research to allow industry and academia more funding to translate basic science into treatments for the patient.
Isn’t that what we are supposed to expect from the NIH? Funding for treatments? Isn’t that just common sense?
When patients entered the critical blogs and posted the link to Andy Grove’s actual presentation in its entirety, bloggers became immediately silent. It’s difficult to argue against common sense.