1-Proteins: Recombinant human growth hormone for sale as a "lifestyle enhancer"
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- Date: Sun, 19 Jan 2003 22:18:46 +0100
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-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------
TITLE: Happier, hornier, hairier
SOURCE: Nature Biotechnology, Vol 21 (1):1, UK,
DATE: Jan 2003
------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------
Happier, hornier, hairier
Those who searched for "that special Xmas gift" last month may have come
across a "very special Xmas offer from US nutraceutical company Longevity
Labs." The offer-cut-price access to the "health miracle" that is
recombinant human growth hormone-promises a product that will provide
"improved muscle strength, increased sexual potency, boosted energy levels,
reduced wrinkle levels, enhanced emotional stability," and a memory like an
elephant (we made up the elephant bit). Buried in the small print is a note
that some recipients might get "sore joints and swelling". But with
everybody swelling up on turkey dinners and plum pudding during the
holidays, nobody will really notice, will they?
All this might not matter if it were not for the fact that Longevity Labs
is one of 11 other companies currently offering recombinant human growth
hormone for sale as a "lifestyle enhancer." Taking the marketing strategy
further, perhaps they would consider a campaign to inform athletes of the
tremendous performance benefits associated with this product. Better still,
Amgen might consider a marketing campaign for erythropoietin aimed at
professional cyclists before next year's Tour de France?
Of course, marketing products as "lifestyle drugs"-loosely defined as
therapies that aim to address attributes associated with social or
lifestyle problems-is nothing new. Increasingly, companies are persuading
patients that nature has cursed them with a new disease that only their
drugs can cure. Some have called this the medicalization of life. The
British Medical Journal has called it "disease mongering."
Because the productivity of giant drug companies is none too high at the
moment-the entire multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry succeeded in
launching a mere one chemical entity against a novel target in 2001-many
pharma companies have decided to forget about nasty, complex diseases and
unmet medical needs and instead have come up with highly marketable
lifestyle drugs. It is no secret that Merck's Propecia treatment for
baldness, Roche's Xenical for obesity, Eli Lilly's Prozac for depression,
and Pfizer's Viagra for male impotence are among the most successful
blockbuster drugs in the industry today.
None of these blockbusters came about through shiny new high-throughput
rational drug discovery platforms offered by biotechnology companies
(unfortunately, these don't seem to work as quickly or efficiently as
advertised). Instead, these drugs came the tried-and-tested way-through
serendipitous clinical observation. Thus, Propecia was originally indicated
to block the metabolism of testosterone to shrink the size of prostate, and
was only later marketed for hair loss. And Viagra was originally tested as
blocker of phosphodiesterase type 5 in cardiovascular patients and
subsequently switched to erectile dysfunction when patients started getting
frisky in trials. Indeed, Allergan's Botox (recombinant botulinum toxin A)
is marketed both as a wrinkle reducer and as a treatment for migraine. The
success of all these products confirms the demand for drugs that improve
social life or make up for social inadequacies.
Selling sickness is obviously profitable. Worldwide sales of Viagra alone
reached over $1.5 billion in 2001. But biotechnology companies should steer
well clear of the pill-for-every-ill paradigm. There are plenty of real
unmet medical needs that require new therapies. There are plenty of orphan
indications that big pharma won't touch because the patient populations
aren't big enough. And there are plenty of failed drugs that might be
resurrected if the right group of patients were identified.
Back in the 1980s, recombinant growth hormone launched an entire industry.
Since then, Genentech's growth hormone has alleviated the suffering of
countless thousands of individuals with growth-hormone deficiency, Turner
syndrome, and chronic kidney disease. Companies like Longevity diminish
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