The Need For More Drugs

New York Post. Tuesday, July 17, 1973

By William F. Buckley Jr.

A professor at the University of California charged last week almost parenthetically that 10,000 deaths from malaria in Ceylon in 1968 can be attributed to the late Rachel Carsen, whose book “The Silent Spring” brought on the crisis of ecology, to be distinguished from the ecology crisis. The latter is what we all know about. The former is what happens when one’s concerns for the ecology become fanatical.

When this happens, for instance, you find yourself saying that it is better to prohibit the use of DDT, because the chemical fallout may poison our grandchildren’s clams, than to kill the mosquitoes who may give malaria to our grandchildren’s grandparents like tomorrow. The need for balance in the ecological wars is very great.

As also in the related world of drugs. We are, one gathers, very soon to hear that the big scare of a few years ago about cyclamates was exaggerated. It isn’t known — or, more accurately, I do not know – whether this means that further research has discredited the research that discredited cyclamates.

Or whether a balanced application of the cost/benefit ratio, as the scientists call it, establishes that whereas for everyone who drinks 50 cyclamated Tabs per day and runs the risk of contracting cancer, there are 10,000 who take less than 50 cyclamated drinks per day who are scheduled to die from whatever it is that avoirdupois does to you, which might not have happened if they drank Tabs rather then Cokes.

Professor Stephen de Felice wrote a book last year called “Drug Discovery – The Pending Crisis) (Medcom Press), in which he records his dismay over the paralysis in drug development caused largely by the Kefauver-Harris Bill that came in ten years ago after the thalidomide crisis. It was then that a few deformed children were born, as the result of the use of that drug.

What followed, Dr. de Felice says, in his writings and speeches, was something akin to hysteria. Moreover, the intellectual basis of the laws that transformed the Federal Drug Administration into an agency for suppressing scientific discovery is incoherent. Much more is known about the deleterious effects of alcohol, say, or tobacco, than was ever suspected about cyclamates.

“The effort now required to evaluate a new investigational drug in man would eliminate the Pasteurs, Jenners, Ehrlichs, and Domagks from our drug discovery system,” says Dr. de Felice, pointing out that for all the explosions in drug discovery during the ’40s and ’50s, which should have resulted in exponential progress during the ’60s, very little of radical therapeutic nature was in fact discovered during the ’60s.

Professor Milton Friedman recently called attention to a cost analysis of the FDA’s program done by Professor Sam Peitzman of UCLA, in which the professor attempted by ingenious means to put a dollar value on the net result of the harsh anti-innovative legislation. He began by conceding all over the place that the human tragedy of a deformed child cannot be measured in dollar terms. But it can be measured in terms of a child who was scheduled to die an awful death, but was cured by drugs.

It is his assumption – which by the way Dr. de Felice challenges as being too optimistic – that the FDA cannot stop progress for very long, that brilliant new drugs will flow in from other quarters of the world. But he insists that there is a least a two-year time lag directly traceable to the FDA’s fanaticism.

Summarizing his findings, Friedman writes, “Peitzman estimates that postponing the introduction (of tuberculosis drugs) two years would have meant about 43,000 additional deaths from tuberculosis, and twice that number in additional persons with tuberculosis out of a much smaller population than today’s.” And then one of those unexpected, lugubrious developments one tends not to notice. The drug industry, one would think, would become a fierce lobby for experimentation, and the development of new, profitable drugs. It isn’t. The reason; the FDA’s stodginess, impartially applied, discourages the competition equally. Under the circumstances, the drug makers can plod along, primarily as producing companies, working out formulae. Presumably they will awaken when a foreign scientific firm comes in with a patented drug that captures the market.

Mr. Friedman permits himself, as is his mode, to consider the wisdom of abolishing the FDA. But he believes absolutely in the wisdom of repealing the 1962 amendment to the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, as should everyone who is scheduled to suffer or die from some disease or other whose abatement is as yet undiscovered, and that means, for the sake of caution, everyone.