A recent study found that the following terms – used by media to attract our attention especially on quiet news days – are no more than pollutants: “breakthrough”, “game changer”, “miracle”, “cure”, “home run”, “revolutionary”, “transformative”, “life saver”, “groundbreaking” and “marvel”. Researchers identified 36 drugs associated with these terms in press releases where the hyperbole didn’t match the reality for at least half of them. Eighteen weren’t even approved for use and five were only “groundbreaking” in mice or test tubes.
Few hyped up drugs make it to the market, let alone result in major advances in health care.
Unfortunately we can’t blame lazy or even optimistic journalists for misleading us since it was clinicians who chose nearly half of these descriptors. So what? skeptics argue; no one really believes these commonly abused words have meaning anymore.
Not so. In a study using an Amazon database participants wanted to believe. When adding either “promising” or “breakthrough” to a facts-only description of a drug, consumer ratings of that drug improved to “very effective” or “completely effective”. People want hope and they want it now. Hyping up health in the media promises and reassures. Where hype starts pharma is always present to encourage the crowd.
The problem is that the delivery of a product is erratic. Because few hyped up drugs make it to the market, let alone result in major advances in health care. And even when they do, the transformation from a glimmer of hope to a therapeutic advance, these days, is decades away and rarely as promising as the hype.
In the 21 century every advance is not a panacea nor even Penicillin. However there have been lots of advances in therapeutics that have extended quality of life and it is perhaps these developments we should be encouraging.
One way of doing this would be through making smarter investment choices. Just as commitments to investing in organic produce turned the food industry around, a public voice, through investment in companies and individual drugs that make a commitment to long term quarantined investments in healthcare, can turn pharmaceutics into an industry that is focused on our therapeutic futures rather than concocting the price of stocks to make magical potions for lucrative mergers and acquisitions.