Many years ago on SNL, Steve Martin did a bit about a new drug he was taking. “It’s fantastic!” he said. “Everybody should be taking it!” “What is it called?” someone asked him. “Pla-cee-bo,” was his reply.
In 2003, Merck introduced a new drug called MK-869. It was designed to have a feel-good effect by tinkering with the nervous system. Early trials were very positive. Company executives and investors were excited.
Then Phase II testing began. The drug was tested against a control group taking a placebo. Many test subjects taking MK-869 reported reductions in anxiety. But nearly the same number of people in the placebo group had the same positive response. Further testing confirmed that there was no difference between the experimental drug and a placebo. MK-869 was shelved.
The case of MK-869 is far from unique. In recent years, more drugs than ever before are being pulled from clinical trials because they can’t outperform placebos. Even billion-dollar moneymakers like Prozac are failing the test.
Here’s where it gets interesting.
Drug developers are saying that it’s not that the meds are ineffective — it’s that the placebo effect is getting stronger. And because it is getting stronger, they believe they should be able to sell their drugs even though they can’t beat sugar pills.
They are spending millions of dollars trying to convince the FDA that their ridiculous theory is valid.
There are two lessons to be drawn from this:
1. Big Pharma is not interested in the effectiveness of its drugs. It’s interested in having the “right” to sell them.
2. Placebos do work. They don’t work all the time. But they often work at the same rate as expensive drugs. Why is this? Probably because they trigger the brain to activate the body’s own therapeutic mechanisms.
That is why it is so important to treat illness holistically — with a mind-body approach. And why, if you have a choice, it is always better to try natural remedies before taking drugs.