The high cost of prescription drugs has recently made headlines, evidenced by price-gouging schemes that cause drug prices to skyrocket 5,000% (as in the case with the infamous Martin Shkreli and the drug Daraprim) or Mylan’s more recent price hike on EpiPen’s to over $600 for a two-pack. What’s often left out of these stories, however, is how the federal government helped the pharmaceutical industry have this kind of power over drug pricing by allowing the industry to take advantage of publicly-funded research. Universities get government money to do research, patent any novel inventions that arise from that research, and sell the patents to the pharmaceutical industry. Consumers are forced to pay monopoly prices for drugs that their tax money helped develop. We see pharmaceutical companies turning supplements into drugs, selling them at exorbitant prices, and removing the supplement versions. Our tax dollars fund their blockbuster drugs, and with those profits they are taking our supplements away. This cannot be allowed to stand.
Last year, the FDA announced the approval of Endari, a drug for sickle cell disease. Endari is an oral powder comprised of L-glutamine, an important amino acid currently available as a supplement. The drug company, Emmaus Medical, Inc., filed an investigational new drug (IND) application—demonstrating their investigation of L-glutamine as a drug. If a drug company begins investigating a nutrient for use in a drug before a supplement company files an NDI notification on that nutrient, the company can ask the FDA to have supplement version removed from the market, leaving consumers with no other option than the drug. Currently, a 120-pill bottle of L-glutamine can be purchased for less than $10; a year’s worth of Endari will reportedly cost consumers more than $40,000. CBD oil faces a similar threat.
The first U.S. study of the effect on people of exposure to a hormone-disrupting chemical widely used in food packaging showed that levels the Food and Drug Administration deems “safe” can alter insulin response, a key marker for diabetes. The groundbreaking study, published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society, administered low doses of bisphenol A, or BPA, to 16 people, then tested their insulin production in response to glucose, commonly called blood sugar. When insulin and blood glucose levels were compared to the same measurements taken without exposure to BPA, researchers found that BPA significantly changed how glucose affected insulin levels. Similar insulin and glucose tests are used by doctors for diagnosing diabetes.
For years, consumers have benefitted from access to cheap, safe, and effective CBD oil supplements. But now the FDA says that CBD is a drug, not a supplement—a drug which will be sold for $32,500 a year. Legally the FDA could at any time remove all CBD supplements from the market, on its own volition, or if the drug company which holds drug market exclusivity requests FDA do so. Unless we change the rules, we may see a government-sponsored monopoly on CBD oil, and in the near future, additional monopolies on other cheap, safe, and effective supplements. This threat to affordable CBD oil shows how broken this system is. An opioid epidemic is ravaging our country, with drug overdose deaths surpassing car accident fatalities. People are addicted to and dying from FDA-approved drugs, yet the agency is poised to eliminate consumer access to a non-addictive, cheap, safe, and effective alternative in CBD oil—all so one drug company can charge tens of thousands of dollars for what currently costs a few dollars. The FDA will not protect us—they’re in on it! More drugs mean more user fees—more money—for the agency, so don’t expect the FDA to defend your access to supplements.
On September 12, the FDA’s advisory committee on compounded medicine—medicine made for individual patients at specialized pharmacies—will meet to discuss five ingredients: alpha lipoic acid, CoQ10, creatine monohydrate, pyridoxal 5 phosphate (P5P), and quercetin dihydrate. If the agency doesn’t hear from patients and concerned citizens, we may lose access to individualized preparations of these important dietary ingredients. The Pharmacy Compounding Advisory Committee (PCAC) advises the FDA in writing new rules regarding what supplements and drugs can be made individually for patients with specific needs by compounding pharmacies. The main motivation behind the FDA’s attacks on compounded medicine is to protect the pharmaceutical industry from competition. With no other choice, patients who rely on compounded medicine would have to buy Big Pharma’s drugs. We can’t let them whittle away the ingredients allowed to be compounded. This “death by a thousand cuts” could end access for us to compounding pharmacies altogether.
In February 2018, the FDA and CDC approved the recommendation for a new hepatitis B vaccine, Heplisav-B for adults over the age of 18. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had twice rejected the application for licensure for Heplisav-B in the past four years because of safety signals. Heplisav-B differs from other licensed hepatitis B vaccines in that it contains a new synthetic adjuvant known as cytosine phosphoguanine 1018 (CpG 1018) composed of short synthetic DNA molecules. In 2016, the FDA rejected an application for licensure for the Heplisav-B vaccine, because the agency was concerned about an increased rate of heart attacks and deaths in people who had been given the vaccine. During the trial, approximately 14 subjects had heart attacks. In July 2017, the FDA committee convened to re-evaluate the scientific evidence and make a decision on whether Heplisav B should or should not be approved for use in the U.S. This committee had only one cardiologist on the team, Milton Packer, MD, who is a distinguished scholar in cardiovascular science at the Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. According to Dr. Packer, it was possible that the Heplisav B vaccine’s novel adjuvant was related to the higher number of heart attacks in study participants who received the experimental vaccine. He stated: "To know if the 7 -1 heart attack imbalance represented a real risk, we’d need comparative data in 50,000 people." However, the only way to conduct such a large trial would be to approve the vaccine and see what happens in the public. With Dr. Packer abstaining in his vote to recommend the vaccine, the FDA committee approved it anyway. Dr. Packer stated: "Why did I abstain? Based on the available data, it was impossible for anyone to know if the increase in heart attack risk was real. There is a simple rule in life: if you don’t know, you should say you don’t know." The vaccine is now available to the public, and all those who receive it are basically guinea pigs to find out if heart attacks will result from the experimental vaccine, and if it will continue to have FDA approval.
As pharma companies underwrite three-fourths of the FDA’s budget for scientific reviews, the agency is increasingly fast-tracking expensive drugs with significant side effects and unproven health benefits. Nuplazid, a drug for hallucinations and delusions associated with Parkinson’s disease, failed two clinical trials. In a third trial, under a revised standard for measuring its effect, it showed minimal benefit. Overall, more patients died or had serious side effects on Nuplazid than after receiving no treatment. Patients on Uloric, a gout drug, suffered more heart attacks, strokes and heart failure in two out of three trials than did their counterparts on standard or no medication. Nevertheless, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved both of these drugs — with a deadly aftermath. Uloric’s manufacturer reported last November that patients on the drug were 34 percent more likely to die from heart disease than people taking an alternative gout medication. And since the FDA fast-tracked approval of Nuplazid and it went on the market in 2016 at a price of $24,000 a year, there have been 6,800 reports of adverse events for patients on the drug, including 887 deaths as of this past March 31. The FDA is increasingly green-lighting expensive drugs despite dangerous or little-known side effects and inconclusive evidence that they curb or cure disease. Once widely assailed for moving slowly, today the FDA reviews and approves drugs faster than any other regulatory agency in the world.
ANH members played a key role in thwarting efforts to eliminate access to personalized medicine. Two years ago, the FDA released a draft guidance saying that a compounding pharmacy (a pharmacy that makes customized medicines for individual patients) cannot register as both an “outsourcing” (503B) and a traditional (503A) facility. We issued an action alert to ANH members to speak out against this policy and submitted detailed legal comments drafted by our general counsel. The agency just released the final guidance, and the FDA listened to our criticisms. The bottom line is that this change will make it much easier for many compounding pharmacies to stay in business, meaning patients will be better able to get the medicines, such as nutrient IV infusions and bioidentical hormones like progesterone and estriol, that they need. This is an important victory.
Most Americans are oblivious to the huge annual burden of chronic illness, injuries and deaths linked to vaccines. Some of the blame for the public’s ignorance belongs to a complicit media that “pretends that vaccine-related injuries do not occur.” However, the lion’s share of culpability for the buried story likely rests with the two federal agencies charged with vaccine oversight—the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—both of which regularly engage in various forms of deception to uphold their bland narrative that vaccines are unambiguously safe. One of the most significant criticisms has to do with the FDA’s and CDC’s business-as-usual reliance on external experts with financial ties to the pharmaceutical companies and/or products that they are evaluating. Little has changed since a congressional Committee on Government Reform outlined this problem nearly two decades ago. The Reform Committee examined the doings of the FDA’s Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC), which determines whether new vaccines should be licensed, and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which recommends vaccines for inclusion in the childhood vaccine schedule. The congressional committee noted that FDA and CDC advisory committee members and chairpersons own stock in the vaccine companies under consideration, as well as own vaccine patents. The CDC “grants conflict of interest waivers to every member of their advisory committee a year at a time and allows full participation in the discussions leading up to a vote by every member,” even if a member has a financial stake in the decision.
Recently, top-tier autoimmunity researchers described vaccine safety science as a “hazardous occupation.” In their view, this is because uncompromising vaccine proponents are instantly ready to mount vociferous personal attacks on anyone who raises questions about any aspect of vaccine safety, even if the questions are buttressed by impeccable, high-quality science. Vaccine safety was not always such a taboo topic. In 1961, a leading polio researcher put forth the view in Science that “even after licensing, a new vaccine product must be considered to be on trial” because of the many “new variables” that accompany large-scale vaccine production and rollout. A leading Food and Drug Administration (FDA) official contended in 1999 that modern advances in vaccine technology were rapidly “outpacing researchers” ability to predict potential vaccine-related adverse events” and argued for closer attention to safety issues from the earliest stages of vaccine development. “One of the important things is that the technology used to make these vaccines actually exceeds the science and technology to understand how these vaccines work and to predict how they will work,” stated Dr. Peter Patriarca, MD, Director of the Viral Products Division of the FDA Center for Biological Evaluation and Research (CBER). “So this has the potential for ending up in a situation which I call a 'black box' vaccine referring to a situation of unforeseen and unpredictable vaccine outcomes.” Dr. Patriarca also voiced concerns that with live attenuated vaccines “there is the potential for these vaccines, many of which have been poorly characterized, to recombine with viruses that may be present in the vaccine. Some of these viruses are latent and persist for a while, so it is very important to assure that these things are safe before they are given to people.” In the two decades since the FDA official’s prescient words of warning, numerous published studies have highlighted vaccine safety concerns that were either unexplored or neglected prior to the introduction of the vaccines in question.