Book Review: Peter W. Huber. The Cure in the Code: How 20th Century Law is undermining 21st Century Medicine.Basic Books (Nov. 2013).
Mr. Huber provides an intense guide to the exploding scientific developments in molecular medicine and the legal and regulatory impediments that threaten to cripple its promise of cheaper and more effective medicine through individualized treatment applications. Modern molecular and genomic advances in medicine, coupled with the exponential increases in computing power and attendant increase in algorithmic data analysis capability opens up the potential for great leaps in medical knowledge and treatment effectiveness.
Standing in the way, however, is the federal Food and Drug Administration with an antiquated system of approvals for new developments in medicine. Mr. Huber argues that the gold standard for FDA approval, the double blind based studies of broad effectiveness against a placebo, are too expensive, too time consuming, too unethical and too narrow. They are too narrow in the sense that they are too broad, requiring a demonstration of effectiveness in a large population, dealing with a specific medical issue, without focusing on the drugs applicability to specific molecular potential in individual cases.
The author refers to this as the “old magic bullet” model, with a single simple cause directly linked to a single effect. He asserts,
[A] high level of complex and statistically elusive biochemical diversity likewise makes it impossible to judge a drug’s efficacy or most of its potential side effects using a conventional, one dimensional statistical analysis of data in biochemically indiscriminate Trials.
Mr. Huber notes that the FDA relaxed the reins somewhat in dealing with the multi-virus issues inherent in HIV treatment, speeding drugs to market like AZT and the creation of “drug cocktails” for attacking the virus, when one drug alone was insufficient. Since then, the FDA has retreated to a more regressive pattern of focus on testing large scale applications of individual drugs to broad populations rather than providing support for wider experimentation by doctors and patients based upon biomarkers and molecular diversity to generate the type of success and failure information that can provide meaningful advances in medical knowledge. The answer he suggests requires a radical reorientation of the FDA, with the focus of Baysean statistical analysis on a broad range of evidence.