What is it about the pharmaceutical industry that attracts so many ‘nutters’ armed with the latest conspiracy theory?
The good news for thriller writers is that the industry provides a rich vein of possibilities for buttock clenching plots, evil scientists and moral crusaders who save the world from annihilation. The Sleepwalker Legacy is based on the premise that a ‘big pharma’ company, under severe financial pressure, is willing to sell a drug to the American government knowing that it is so dangerous it could send humanity back to the dark ages. The concept seems ludicrous and yet the reader is left with the uneasy sense that somewhere on the planet this very situation could well be unfolding as we speak.
I had the pleasure of working in the pharmaceutical industry for a number of years and considered it an honour to be part of an organisation that eased the suffering of countless millions. I will never forget the day that a supplier who was giving a presentation to my procurement team broke down in tears as he delivered his pitch. He told us the story of how his eight year old son had a severe medical condition that made him so unruly he was unable to function at school and home life had become a battlefield for the entire family. After a short period of time on our company’s medication, the child had settled down at school and for the first time in years, the family could operate as a normal, loving unit. A few months later an elderly lady spoke at one of our team meetings out of gratitude for the effects one of our drugs had on her life. She had been bed-ridden for two years with severe osteoarthritis. After completing a course of one of the company’s drugs she was able to take short walks in the countryside. To her the drug was literally a life saver. She frankly admitted that she had contemplated suicide many times in the previous two years due to the severity of the pain she had previously experienced.
Yet all drugs have potential risks and side effects, of course, and doctors and patients must weigh those against a drug’s medical benefits. Controversy arises when litigators claim that the side effects have been under-estimated or insufficiently disclosed. In Chapter 5 of the Sleepwalker Legacy, Sam takes part in a debate on the track record of the pharmaceutical industry and the multi-billion dollar fines imposed by the regulatory bodies when the industry gets it wrong. I tried to emphasise the strict regulations imposed on the whole industry that would make another Thalidomide scandal impossible and yet conspiracy theories continue to abound.
I have read with interest how loving and responsible parents in affluent suburbs put whole communities at risk by conscientiously objecting to whooping cough, measles and other vaccinations for their infants. When the percentage of the population vaccinated against a particular disease drops below a critical level, then the concept of ‘herd immunity’ breaks down. Particularly vulnerable groups within society such as the elderly or those with weakened immune systems are impacted by the actions of the conscientious objectors. So what is it that drives seemingly rational people to take such decisions?
One reason is that ‘Big Pharma’ is part of the corporate sector and dependent upon large profits to continue its pipeline of new products each of which costs several billion to develop. Where there is profit, there is mistrust. In addition the industry exists in a market where brands must compete to survive. Doctors are subject to intense marketing campaigns and some pharmaceutical companies have been subject to eye watering, billion dollar fines for promoting the off label benefits of their drugs. And the impact of Thalidomide in the 1960s hangs over the industry like a black shadow. I remember how my own mother told me that she was prescribed Thalidomide in 1961 for her morning sickness. I remain grateful to this day that her mother’s instinct caused her to reject the prescription and several months later I was born as a healthy bouncing baby.
While my experience within the pharmaceutical industry leaves me reassured and well informed, Sam Jardine will continue to fight against world threatening corporate conspiracies from many different industries. I hope his battles will leave readers thrilled and with some insight into the shenanigans of each of those industries. If any reader has a particular insight into a modern day conspiracy, real or imagined I would love learn more on the pages of this blog.