Sunday, September 06, 2009

Mind and popular culture: Placebo effect increasing? Big pharma not exactly delighted

This very interesting article by Steve Silberman in Wired ("Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why," 08.24.09) notes
True, many test subjects treated with the medication felt their hopelessness and anxiety lift. But so did nearly the same number who took a placebo, a look-alike pill made of milk sugar or another inert substance given to groups of volunteers in clinical trials to gauge how much more effective the real drug is by comparison. The fact that taking a faux drug can powerfully improve some people's health—the so-called placebo effect—has long been considered an embarrassment to the serious practice of pharmacology.

Ultimately, Merck's foray into the antidepressant market failed. In subsequent tests, MK-869 turned out to be no more effective than a placebo. In the jargon of the industry, the trials crossed the futility boundary.

MK-869 wasn't the only highly anticipated medical breakthrough to be undone in recent years by the placebo effect. From 2001 to 2006, the percentage of new products cut from development after Phase II clinical trials, when drugs are first tested against placebo, rose by 20 percent. The failure rate in more extensive Phase III trials increased by 11 percent, mainly due to surprisingly poor showings against placebo. Despite historic levels of industry investment in R&D, the US Food and Drug Administration approved only 19 first-of-their-kind remedies in 2007—the fewest since 1983—and just 24 in 2008. Half of all drugs that fail in late-stage trials drop out of the pipeline due to their inability to beat sugar pills.
After decades in the jungles of fringe science, the placebo effect has become the elephant in the boardroom.
Although longish, this article is indispensable in understanding the damage that materialism and mechanism has done to medicine. The placebo effect should never have been either a problem or an embarrassment. It only became so because of a need to pretend that the patient's mind does not matter, because mind is an illusion created by the buzz of neurons in the brain and causes nothing. THe placebo effect is increasing only because its potent effects are ignored.

Well, they are paying for their mistake now.

The good news is that a new approach is developing, one that harnesses both the placebo response and pharmaceuticals. As Silberman says,
The placebo response doesn't care if the catalyst for healing is a triumph of pharmacology, a compassionate therapist, or a syringe of salt water. All it requires is a reasonable expectation of getting better. That's potent medicine.
Of course, that means that your mind exists and is doing the heavy lifting. But so? If you're better, you're better. You want to complain about that? Save it for when you are sick and not getting better. That happens too.

Go here for the rest.

See also:

Can ideas be reduced to purely material causes?

Neuroscience: Where does it hurt? How?

Finally, an idea! Wow, a real idea. But wait, wait

Brain: If a pill did not cause all your problems, chance are a pill will not fix them all either

Health can sometimes be fun, free, and painless: The placebo effect gets its own Web site

Placebo effect: Your mind's role in your health

Mind and medicine: Did your doctor just prescribe you a quarter teaspoon of coloured sugar?

Beauregard and O'Leary on the Dennis Prager show: A partial transcript

If you do not take your sugar pill placebo are you more likely to die?