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Greg Webb
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AstraZeneca Pushing Fish Oil Drugs – About Medicine or Money?

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Recently, British pharmaceutical giant, AstraZeneca, announced that it is buying out Omthera Pharmaceuticals, the developer of a new drug, Epanova, which will compete with current fish oil-based drugs manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline and Amarin. Even though there is evidence that fish oil supplements, or omega-3 fatty acids, are not the cure all for high cholesterol or heart disease, the drug companies are capitalizing on the trendy use of these supplements.

My recent article on fish oil supplements  cites current research indicating marginal success of these products in treating heart disease. Not only is the supplement not showing significant results in reducing heart disease, a second study found a correlation between the use of fish oil products and an increased risk for prostate cancer.

At a time when we should be questioning the benefits of taking fish-oil supplements, the push by manufacturers of dietary supplements remains strong and now the pharmaceutical industry is jumping in with its more expensive versions of the fish-oil based ‘drug’. By one estimation, if Epanova does well in the cardiac outcomes trials, peak annual sales could exceed $1 billion. (Bioworld)

“Based on the totality of current evidence, the pendulum appears to be shifting away from omega-3 fatty acid supplementation providing significant cardiovascular event reduction,” according to Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles. (Health Day)

The average consumer isn’t going to do the research needed to discover that Epanova is basically a fancy version of the fish-oil dietary supplement.

We don’t always know what medications are right for usj.  Theoretically, that is one reason  we go to doctors. Pharmaceutical companies are extraordinarily successful because they routinely lobby doctors. Drug referrals are big business; many doctors are receiving substantial amounts of money to push the latest drugs.  Choosing the best treatment for what ails us might be a healthier diet and an exercise regime, but instead we will most likely get a prescription for one of these new and expensive fish-oil based drugs. Drugs we likley can get on our own—at the drug store, health food store or our grocery store—for less money.

The FDA will research this latest drug and most likely give approval for AstraZeneca to proceed. The question is whether the FDA is likely to challenge the Big Pharma business as they crank out medication after medication, pushing questionable drugs in order to keep revenues high. What happens when the research, from independent scientists, is non-conclusive?

High cholesterol and its accompanying risk, heart disease, are serious matters. But throwing a new drug at the problem is not always the best answer. Particularly not when the driving interest behind a new drug seems to be improving market shares and securing drug patents, and omega-3 fatty acides can be obtained through other, less expensive and probably as effective means.

For a more technical explanation of the new fish oil drug and its target market, visit  BioWorld online.

Headline Image Source: © andriux-uk/flickr/CC-BY-SA-2.0