Thursday, July 2, 2009

By Stuart Chaietz

Front Page Hype - Back Page Reality
Part I
When animal experimenters create monkeys with glowing feet (as we recently saw) or whatever the horror of the week is, the story is carried front and center in newspapers and on television. When no new breakthroughs occur - or worse - when people become ill or die from drugs tested on animals, the stories, if carried at all, are usually tucked away in the business section. Placed here, the major aspect of interest becomes the decline of the value of the pharmaceutical company, not of the individuals who have died or of the effect on their families.

A case in point is this story, from Monday, reporting on a drug called Tysabri, and that a tenth patient taking it has “developed a potentially deadly brain infection.” Something as serious as this should get prime news retail space, but when you look on the news site where it’s posted, you have to follow this path to find it: “Home > Business & Finance > Industries > Healthcare > Article.”
So, while we learn almost nothing in the article of the ten people who have the brain infection linked to Tysabri, we are given a bullet point that the shares of the parent company have fallen 6.8 percent, and that, “Sales of the drug have failed to live up to expectations.”
I can think of a number of things involving drugs tested on animals that have “failed to live up to expectations,” but sales is not one that would ever come to mind.
If ten people get brain disease from watching the current Transformers movie (there’s a whole blog I could write on that alone) it would be next to the story of the train wreck or other catastrophe that has taken multiple lives. With a few exceptions however (as with the drug Vioxx, where the news coverage was propelled by massive lawsuits and numbers of people involved) stories of illness or death of patients, linked to a drug produced by a pharmaceutical company, are usually shunted into the finance section.

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