The placebo “problem”

Prescription placebos used in research and pra...

Prescription placebos used in research and practice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seems that PHARMA’s difficulty in developing drugs with stronger effects than placebo has prompted a creative response to the researching drugs. Kas Thomas at assertTrue(), directs us to a scholarly journal article tackling the “problem”:

But then Fava and his coauthors make the baffling statement: “Thus far, there has been no attempt to develop new study designs aimed at reducing the placebo effect.” They go on to present SPCD as a more or less revolutionary advance in the quest to quelch placebo effect.

Up until this point in science, I don’t think there had ever been any discussion, in a scientific paper, of a need to attack placebo effect as something bothersome, something that interferes with scientific progress, something that needs to be guarded against vigilantly like Swine Flu. The whole idea that placebo effect is getting in the way of producing meaningful results is repugnant, I think, to anyone with scientific training.

What’s even more repugnant, however, is that Fava’s group didn’t stop with a mere paper in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. They went on to apply for, and obtain, U.S. patents on SPCD (on behalf of The General Hospital Corporation of Boston). The relevant U.S. patent numbers are 7,647,235; 7,840,419; 7,983,936; 8,145,504; 8,145,505, and 8,219,41, the most recent of which was granted July 2012. You can look them up on Google Patents.

The patents begin with the statement: “A method and system for performing a clinical trial having a reduced placebo effect is disclosed.” Incredibly, the whole point of the invention is to mitigate (if not actually defeat) the placebo effect. I don’t know if anybody else sees this as disturbing. To me it’s repulsive.

2 Comments

Filed under Controversies, Policy, Research, Treatment

2 responses to “The placebo “problem”

  1. obviously, they can’t handle a bit of competition.
    next they’ll be coming up with a drug to prevent talk from therapy working.

  2. Few things undermine science as much as unbridled careerism.