Posted by Bill Sandweg on 04 August 2015.
There have been a couple of recent news stories which serve to remind us that medicine is a business and that the business aspects of medicine can affect our health. The first story had to do with a vaccine for Type 1 diabetes. I am very interested in this since my 5 year old grandson is a Type 1 diabetic. Huge sums are being spent to develop a mechanical pancreas for Type 1 diabetics. Huge sums are also being spent to develop biological methods to get insulin producing cells functioning in the bodies of Type 1 diabetics. At the same time, huge sums are being spent for testing, for meters, for pumps, and for insulin to keep Type 1 diabetics alive. The New York Times reported last year that it costs about $25,000.00 per year to keep a Type 1 diabetic alive. The news story in question reported that a noted researcher in Boston has completed Phase I trials with human subjects in which a vaccine developed over a hundred years ago for tuberculosis is injected into the body of a Type 1 diabetic and has the effect of restoring some insulin production. In many respects, this is or can be a cure. The researcher is getting ready to begin larger and longer Phase II trials but first needs to raise $25 million dollars to fund the trials. You would think that with all the money going to diabetes research, it would be easy to raise what, in comparison to all the other money being spent, is small change. The problem is that there is no patent protection for this old vaccine and no drug companies would make money on it, if it is successful. In fact, the whole diabetes research and supply community would lose hundreds of millions of dollars annually, if this vaccine succeeds in restoring some Type 1 patients to normal glucose metabolism. Here is a link to the doctor running the Phase II trial, if you would like to make a donation.
The second story had to do with a proven and effective treatment for ovarian cancer which is not being used as much as it should. Among the reasons is that no drug company is going to make money on the treatment so the companies don’t send their representatives out to encourage oncologists to use the treatment. Another reason is that oncologists don’t make the kind of money from this treatment that they make from other, less effective treatments.
In both of these cases, who made money and how much made a difference in terms of medical treatment being given to actual patients today or in advancing medical treatment for millions of Type 1 diabetics. This underlines a point I have made often in the past: Medicine is a business and we are its customers. As customers we must remember that we are being sold something which may or may not be the best option for us. Just because a doctor says something doesn’t make it so. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to get a second opinion before making an important decision.