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Surprising Science

Questionable Pharmaceutical Research

Large pharmaceutical companies are increasingly testing their drugs in Eastern Europe and Asia thanks to less red tape and lower operating costs, but is that good for American consumers?

What’s the Latest Development?

Pharmaceutical drug trials are increasingly taking place abroad, particularly in Eastern Europe and Asia, where it is cheaper to operate and governments require less red tape. During a recent trial for a new heart disease drug manufactured by AstraZeneca Plc, medical patients in Poland and Hungary accounted for more than double the American and Canadian ones. In India, hospitals charge between $1,500 and $2,000 per patient case report during a drug trial where an American hospital would charge $20,000, said former GlaxoSmithKline Plc Chief Executive Jean-Pierre Garnier. Costs are likewise much lower in China, which is set to become the world’s second-largest market for new pharmaceutical drugs, behind the U.S. 

What’s the Big Idea?

The United State’s prescription drug market is the largest in the world and, for pharmaceutical companies, F.D.A. approval often makes the difference between turning a profit or taking a loss on a new treatment. So given that drugs are essentially made for American consumers, is it wise to test them increasingly overseas? Will Westerners react to a medication in the same way as a Chinese population who may have a vastly different lifestyle? And is it ethical for pharmaceutical companies to operate in countries who require less paperwork? Concerns abound about companies who parachute in, test new drugs and then leave with little further concern about the health of the population they benefited from. 


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