The WSJ Online Opinion section has a piece today pegged to the newshook of the Pfizer-Wyeth deal. Read down a ways and there is a more general point of considerable importance:
[P]olitical developments have made it harder to win approval for new medicines. Once admired as an engine of American innovation, drug companies are now treated like Big Tobacco on Capitol Hill. The phantom drug safety crisis conjured by the Vioxx and antidepressant controversies has made the industry a piñata for Democrats like Henry Waxman and Bart Stupak.
The Food and Drug Administration is deeply influenced by this political criticism and has tilted its approval process toward reducing risks rather than speeding the benefits of new drugs to market. On average, a drug stands only an 11% chance of making it through FDA clinical trials and reaching patients, by that point usually costing $1 billion or more.
The problem is not just in the FDA. In Wyeth v. Levine, now awaiting Supreme Court decision, the question is whether a state can use its tort law to over-rule the FDA and impose its own ideas of safe medical practice.
If the drug company -- backed by the Feds -- wins, then legislation is certain to be introduced to overturn the case and give the states free rein. After all, the health of the trial bar is much more important than the welfare of a few sick people.