Combating Malevolence

Whatever the entertainment and artistic merits of the movie "The Constant Gardener," released at the end of last month, the pharmaceutical industry could do without it.

Richard Gallagher(rgallagher@the-scientist.com)
Sep 11, 2005

Whatever the entertainment and artistic merits of the movie "The Constant Gardener," released at the end of last month, the pharmaceutical industry could do without it. A bit of a departure for John Le Carré, the author of the book the movie is based on, it substitutes a villainous pharma industry for the KGB/CIA. Even KVH, the company's three-letter acronym – a sure sign of a bad guy – is retained. KVH has a problem: its tuberculosis drug has side effects that are preventing approval in the West, so it turns to Africa to try to iron out the kinks. Villagers serve as unwilling human guinea pigs, with appalling consequences. For my view of the movie, see http://media.the-scientist.com/blog/display/1/92.

The pharmaceutical industry is quickly becoming a pariah. We're not shy about criticizing drug companies in these pages, as we've noted the failure to publish negative clinical trial results and the excessive and sometimes misleading marketing. But the industry is the major source of new medicines and the main hope for the conversion of basic research advances into practical applications. To paint the pharmaceutical business as wholly evil, as Le Carr'e does, or even somewhat evil, as many reviews of his book on Amazon.com have done, is ludicrous.

How many readers were appalled by the OpEd article in The Boston Globe titled "Biomedical Buzz."1 Read it, you will be. As the writer of the courageous blog Animal Crackers2 put it, it is "a grotesque hit piece that trivialize(s) the importance of animal based research for medical progress, and – outrageously – demonize(s) scientists who do it." How many contacted the editor to complain?

The threats from all sides, however, are not just rhetoric. If the industry is evil, then what would you say about the kind of sick people who dig up the body of a dead family member to put pressure on a family-run business, as animal activists have? Here's an extract from a newspaper report3:

"Darnley Oaks Farm in Newchurch, [UK,] which supplied laboratories with animals for scientific research, announced that it is to close following a six-year campaign of violence and intimidation by members of ALF (Animal Liberation Front).

Farm machinery was sabotaged, cars were daubed with paint stripper and the home windows of staff were smashed. One worker had his name spelled out in a field with shotgun cartridges, while an effigy of a colleague was left on a doorstep with a knife stuck in its face and pins in its chest.

The finance director of a brokers' firm associated with the farm had his car firebombed and an incendiary device was found under the car of a truck driver. The final straw, which led to the closure of the farm, was the theft of the remains of the owner's mother-in-law from a graveyard."

We have to assist those, like the Darnley Oaks farm, that help provide the infrastructure for scientific research, even if it is only by writing a letter of support. We have to participate in discussions on the pharma and biotech industries, ensuring that their positive contribution is acknowledged in the face of fictional demonization. We have to back those with the courage to disseminate information about the menace of animal rights activists. We must use our collective influence to combat this malevolence.