I strongly believe we are heading for one almighty battle. Millions and millions of pounds have been spent by the drugs industry in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease. Much more money is being reaped as drugs (often of marginal benefit) are used in its management worldwide. With this scenario all was looking secure for the drug manufacturers but then, on 6 January, there was a seismic change in the landscape.

In the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease an article by Gary Arendash and his colleagues reported how exposure to the high frequency electromagnetic waves emitted by mobile phones can prevent or even reverse certain clinical features and underlying pathology of Alzheimer’s disease in susceptible mice. Obviously, were this to hold equally for humans, there is a strong possibility that such a simple and cheap physical approach would become the management of first choice in the prevention and treatment of this terrible disease.

So what happens next? Faced with the prospect, albeit remote, of losing a lucrative market, I predict that the industry will want to quash the electromagnetic treatment theory as soon as possible. To this end, I would expect that the industry propaganda machine will go into overdrive in an attempt to undermine the credibility and findings of Arendash, and to overwhelm the decision makers (ultimately the funders) so that the use of drugs is maintained. The power of industry as an information generator and distributor is unmatched, and industry will use all its persuasive skills in order that its products remain dominant in the treatment of a disease that is, after all, ideal for drug companies in that it is serious, chronic and common. On the industry’s behalf, new research will be done, old data will be dredged, opinion leaders will be recruited, symposia will be organised, press notices released, all to sideline the mobile phone theory. For industry, the sooner and more completely this theory can be quashed the better. In the first instance they certainly will not want ‘city’ analysts to take it seriously with the risk of a shares slump.

I believe that the battle over the electromagnetic theory won’t take long to surface, will probably be dirty, and could last years. If nothing else, we must ensure it is given a reasonable chance to germinate.

[This post by Joe Collier first appeared (as ‘Big pharma vs the mobile phone: let battle commence’) in the BMJ Group Blogs on 7 January, 2010 ]

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