Sunday, May 18, 2008

"Me Too" Drugs - and Our Daily Meds

It is springtime in much of the US, and those who are allergic to pollen are having a good time right now. But in between sneezes, you allergy sufferers need to know something. There have been no truly new breakthroughs in treatment since Seldane was discovered way back in the 80s and Flonase in the early 90s. Pretty much everything since has been variations on the theme -- these are known as "me-too" drugs, because they are almost exactly the same drugs as the ones they replace.

One of the easiest ways to tell if something is a "me-too" drug is to look at the drug's generic name. A "me-too" drug will contain, in part, the name of the drug that it is copying. For example:

  • Seldane (terfenadine)was taken off the market for safety reasons right as Allegra-D (fexofenadine plus pseudoephedrine) was approved for sale. Interesting, no?

  • As Claritin (loratadine) went OTC, the pharmaceutical companies got approval to sell Clarinex (desloratadine).

The two "me-too" newbies for this year are Xyzal (a tablet) and Veramyst (a nasal spray):

  • Xyzal is basically Zyrtec, which went OTC earlier this year. Zyrtec is cetirizine hydrochloride. Xyzal is levocetirizine dihydrochloride. In other words, the pharmaceutical company has found a handy way to keep getting paid those top-tier prescription co-pays, plus whatever the insurance companies pay.

  • Veramyst (fluticasone furoate), a nasal spray, is GSK's newest version of Flonase (fluticasone propionate). You see, Flonase is now off-patent and thus not making as much money for GSK. The ads for Veramyst claim that it's an "improved" version of fluticasone, but FFS, how much can you improve a drug that you snort up your nose? Other than removing the nasty eau-de-potpourri scent that brand Flonase has, I mean. The real benefit, I suspect, is that Veramyst will be on patent until 2021.

Know that big pharma is going to wine and dine and give gifts to docs in the hopes that they will prescribe the newest drugs. Drugs that don't actually relieve allergic reactions any better than Benadryl, which has been around forever and costs mere cents per dose. The new, more expensive med which does the exact same thing as its predecessor, and is released right as patents expire and/or the old drug goes OTC. The difference between these new drugs and the drugs that they copy is slight -- a changed saline structure, a "mirror" of some of the chemicals in the drug. Nothing that changes the outcome.

Does anyone else see a pattern here?

Let me reiterate: drug companies are releasing the me-too drugs -- and have done over the past twenty years -- as the patents on their blockbuster drugs expire. They want the cash cow to keep producing milk. The examples provided here only deal with a small portion of medications -- it's being done for everything from GERD/heartburn meds to sleep aids to antidepressants.

Give a large finger gesture to big pharma this pollen season. If your allergies act up, take Benadryl when you are at home. Take one of the non-sedating OTC antihistamines for when you're at work and/or need to be out and about. If you use a nasal spray, get Flonase or Astelin. And don't buy into the marketing hype -- these "new" drugs aren't new, they're retreads.

You'll have more money in your pocket. We like more money.

Much of the information discussed here can be found in an expanded form in the book Our Daily Meds. I suggest that everyone read it -- what is being done to the American public by big pharma is scary. They withhold information; they pay outrageous sums to docs to "write" papers; they only use partial information discovered; they hide unflattering test results; they place the blame on deaths from meds on other meds. There is little oversight, and we're all at risk -- at the least, we get our pockets picked; at the most, we or a loved one wind up dead.

They have not yet developed a pill to treat the condition of being dead.

Take new meds, and their claims, with a very large grain of salt, and research before you start using a new medication.

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