Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tanezumab

No, don't bother reading it backwards or upside down: it's a new drug aimed at relieving the pain of osteo-arthritis. It was featured on the NBC News this evening (here's the video link) because the FDA has suspended testing of the drug -- at least temporarily. The reason: it's too effective.

Apparently a number (I don't know the percentage) of patients testing the drug had their arthritis condition sufficiently worsened so that they actually needed joint replacements. It was suggested that Tanezumab was so effective at reducing pain that people taking it over-extended themselves. The drug itself is not a treatment for the underlying disease: it simply masks the main symptom, namely pain. Without the pain, people were not tipped off that they were possibly doing damage to their arthritic joints and bones.

It seems to me that this raises, in a very pure way, the classic liberal vs. libertarian philosophical question: How or when should be "protect people from themselves"? Apparently the government decided that testing the drug should be suspended pending further analysis of its dangers -- certainly a prudent decision given the damage that some of the test subjects sustained. Immediately, however, critics suggested that testing continue, with the patients being warned about the effects that had been observed, and cautioned to avoid over-exercise and stress on their bodies.

Ultimately, the decision will have to be made whether to allow the drug on the market at all, and, if it is approved, whether to somehow "dilute" or attenuate its effect to protect people "from themselves" or simply to attach a warning and let people decide how to manage their pain and their risk. Assuming that the drug has no other side effects, this is a very interesting philosphical debate. Any comments?

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