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Have drug; need patients: Big Pharma seeks uses for Seroquel

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Message Martha Rosenberg
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The screaming woman is right out of Friday the 13th Part 2 or Halloween.

Face contorted, mouth in an impossible S shape, she looks like she's being murdered--or doing the murdering.

Other photos show her clenching her teeth, pulling her hair and screeching into the telephone.

Is it an ad for the remake of Psycho that everyone's been waiting for?

No, it's an ad to sell the latest disease big pharma hopes will move its drugs: bipolar disorder.

And as everyone who remembers HRT marketing knows, the quickest way to sell a drug is showing out of control women.

"Are there periods of time when you have racing thoughts? Fly off the handle at little things? Spend out of control?" ask the magazine ads. "Need less sleep? Feel irritable? You may need treatment for bipolar disorder."

Of course you may also have had too much coffee or a bad day at the office. But mental illness makes a lot more money.

Especially if you decide to take AstraZeneca's Seroquel.

Created in 1988 by tweaking an existing antipsychotic compound enough to merit a patent, 1 Seroquel (quetiapine fumarate) had the three things big pharma loves most in a drug: a short time from R&D to sales, a daily ad infinitum dosage and a high price. ($11.82 a day or $4,300 a year) 2 It was approved in 1997 for schizophrenia.

At first it was a block buster, accounting for one dollar in nine of AstraZeneca revenue. 3

But then in 2005, that cheeky New England Journal of Medicine found Seroquel and other atypical antipsychotics except one had no advantage over the older antipsychotics like Haldol and Thorazine. (Except of course price.) 4 Including the putative reduction in rigidity and tremors that was their selling point. 2

The finding, part of a six-year National Institutes of Health comparative drug study, provided "a comprehensive set of data that were obtained independently of the pharmaceutical industry," commented principal investigator Jeffrey Lieberman, adding insult to injury. 4

Around the same time the just as cheeky British Medical Journal 5 announced that Seroquel and a similar atypical antipsychotic were ineffective in reducing agitation among Alzheimer's patients who constitute 29 percent of Seroquel sales.

In fact, Seroquel was found to actually make cognitive functioning worse in the elderly patients with dementia studied.

Then there was the police blotter. Violent assault reports increasingly mentioned Seroquel---one in Yonkers, NY began, "The city jail guard who shot his wife before killing himself had just begun taking a powerful antipsychotic drug that listed 'suicide attempt' among its possible side effects"6--and law suits began piling up. Three hundred and eighty according to USA Today. 7

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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)
 

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