The last few years haven't been the best for the business of medical research. There was the Sanofi-Aventis researcher in California who was arrested waving a loaded handgun; police found a package of cocaine stuffed in his underwear. There was the psychiatric researcher in Oklahoma City whose medical licence was suspended after he infected two patients with genital herpes, and who was investigated by the FDA after he barred a research subject from leaving his clinical trial facility. In Miami, investigative reporters for Bloomberg Markets magazine discovered that a contract research organisation called SFBC International was testing drugs on undocumented immigrants in a rundown motel; since that report, the motel has been demolished for fire and safety violations. Several pharmaceutical companies have been caught up in controversial cases of suicide, such as that of Dan Markingson, a young man who stabbed himself to death while taking Seroquel in an AstraZeneca trial at the University of Minnesota, and Traci Johnson, who hanged herself in a study of Cymbalta at the Eli Lilly trial site in Indianapolis. Britain had its own disaster at Northwick Park Hospital in north-west London, where six healthy subjects nearly died in a 'first in man' study of a monoclonal antibody. And Pfizer has spent longer than a decade dealing with the fallout of a study in Kano, Nigeria, in which 11 children died during a meningitis trial allegedly rigged to show that the antibiotic Trovan was superior to a competitor's drug. The Trovan case has wound its way through various courts for years, generating millions of dollars in damages and a stubborn public relations problem for Pfizer.
LRB 23 September 2010 | PDF Download