You should read it because behind the anodyne cover lurks a tale of horrific fascination that affects us all. Bad Pharma is the story of the ways in which the pharmaceutical industry, with the help of regulators, doctors and academics, seeks to pervert and obfuscate the research done to test new medicines. It may be rather technical in content, but from more or less page one Goldacre is clear about who are the primary victims in his sorry story: all of us. Happily, we might also be part of the solution.
It seems hard to credit that the situation could be so bad. The scale of the problem is rendered starkly in the preface:
“Drugs are tested by the people who manufacture them, in poorly designed trials, on hopelessly small numbers of weird, unrepresentative patients, and analysed using techniques which are flawed by design, in such a way that they exaggerate the benefits of treatments. Unsurprisingly, these trials tend to produce results that favour the manufacturer. When trials produce results that companies don’t like, they are perfectly entitled to hide them from doctors and patients, so we only ever see a distorted picture of any drug’s true effects.”
These claims may be startling to some but they have not been made airily. Many of the problems that Goldacre describes have been researched and identified by others, and he proceeds to take a full 373 pages to lay out the evidence for his case, in chapters that explain how trials are designed to maximise the apparent benefits of new drugs, how negative results are hidden, how regulators collude with the industry in hiding data on efficacy and safety from doctors and how the industry bankrolls doctors, academics and medical journals to ensure the most favourable presentation of its products.