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1-Proteins: Recombinant human growth hormone for sale as a "lifestyle enhancer"

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-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  Happier, hornier, hairier
SOURCE: Nature Biotechnology, Vol 21 (1):1, UK, 
DATE:   Jan 2003

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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 
that achievement.


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