“Big, Bad Facts” about Big Pharma

“Big, Bad Facts” about Big Pharma


By Dr Irwin Lim, Rheumatologist

Accessed from www.mapsofworld.com

Accessed from www.mapsofworld.com


The snippet above is part of an infographic that came to my attention this week. The figures are in million US dollars, by the way. I enjoyed the design & loud “facts” of the infographic so much that I tweeted it a couple of times.

I’m not sure how true all these figures are, and there is a negative spin to it, but I thought you’d be interested.

Check out the link:


Most things in life are not all bad, and while it’s easy and tempting to portray big pharma in a negative light, we do have a lot to be thankful for – not least the availability of new therapeutics that do improve patient’s lives.

The following graphic also caught my attention:

Accessed from www.mapsofworld.com

Accessed from www.mapsofworld.com



Rheumatology drugs. We are spending some serious money.

What that seems to suggest is that we need to continue to leverage this, and use Big Pharma to improve the lot for patients with rheumatic problems and arthritis.

Awareness programs. Advocacy. Improved education for doctors and health professionals. Supporting Support Organisations. Non-medication programs eg quit smoking, exercise initiatives, etc.

There’s money there for these.

What are your thoughts?

Dr Irwin Lim is a rheumatologist and a director of BJC Health. You should follow him on twitter here.
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  • LG

    Very interesting that 4 of the top 5 are rheumatology drugs! I don’t think that Big Pharma is the villian that it is often cast as. I believe a lot of the negative spin is simply lack of education about the seriousness of chronic disease. A perfect example is an article I saw that claimed smart phone use caused arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis. What made it really bad was that it was a physio (she was considered an expert) making these claims. This is in your neck of the hemisphere- here is the link: http://www.borderchronicle.com.au/story/1616218/warning-arthritis-linked-to-smartphone-use/?cs=1181

  • Juliet Neary

    This begs the question, what has caused us to need so many autoimmune drugs?

    • LG

      I think because not all patients respond to just one biologic. I’m on my third biologic. The first one was Humira, and it worked great for a year. The second was Enbrel, and it worked great for a year and a half. I’m now on Actemra, which is working great. I’ve been on it since December 2012. If I only had the choice of one drug I probably wouldn’t be doing very well right now.

      • Juliet Neary

        I’m sorry I was unclear. Why do we, as a society, need these drugs? A generation ago, older people had osteoarthritis, but it seems we have a huge number of people — young, middle-aged and old – with autoimmune conditions. I’m almost 44. We had one kid in my grade school with allergies and he got shots. None of my friends parents had Crohn’s, MS, fibro, CFS, colitis, IBD. It’s not that it was undiagnosed. They didn’t have these problem a generation ago.

        • LG

          Yes, people had rheumatoid arthritis much more than a generation ago. My aunt has RA, she is 58 and was diagnosed in her early twenties. Her hands are deformed and she has had many joint replacements. A very close friend of our family who is 73 has severe RA and was diagnosed at the ripe old age of 15, this was in the 1950’s, and the treatment of choice was massive doses of aspirin. When the side effects became too much they would hospitilize her while they brought her off the aspirin- they had to because the flares that racked her body were so extreme. Maybe your friend’s parents didn’t have these diseases but they don’t exactly represent a large population. In as little as two decades ago, a diagnosis of RA often meant a good chance of disability, pain, and progressive deformity. It is because of these biologics that people like myself are able to lead more normal lives. I’m 47, and if I’d been diagnosed at 17 I’m sure my life would be very different now as my RA is severe. Here’s a link on some RA history:


          • Juliet Neary

            I don’t mean literally no one had these conditions, but they were very rare — I’ve looked at the statistics. Whatever. Everyone can keep taking these drugs that don’t really work and have worse side effects than the condition they’re treating. I’ll be cleaning up my diet and my environment.

          • irwinlim

            Thanks for commenting Juliet. While I don’t actually know the figures, I think you’re correct that the trend is that autoimmune diseases are increasing.

            What we put into our mouths and the environment we live in may have roles in this.

            I’ve blogged about the importance of diet and exercise, and I do agree that any improvement in the environment you live in is a general goal eg stress reduction, smoking avoidance, etc.

            However, once you’ve developed an autoimmune condition, unless it’s very mild, medical therapy is often needed. And for many, medications offer a chance for better quality of life with less pain.

          • Juliet Neary

            I agree the meds are necessary for people to have any quality of life. But we need to discover the cause of the symptoms, and remove that cause if possible, rather than just suppressing symptoms. I lived in a house filled with stachybotrys mold, when I got sick, and no one seems to think that played a part.

  • Barry Paul

    First of all, I never take internet “factoids” at face value, since they are almost always false. I wouldn’t want to damage my reputation by forwarding bogus information to people who know me. The information you are tweeting & otherwise distributing is FALSE. This is what I found regarding Pfizer from their published financials:

    Pfizer, Inc and subsidiary companies for 2012 (all numbers in millions):
    Total Worldwide Revenues (Including veterinary medications and consumer products): $58,986 (not the $67,932 listed above). R&D was $7,870; rebates, charge-backs and other sales allowances were $12,100; and income taxes were $2,562.

    The “Big, Bad Facts” graphic is obviously designed to make some anti-US, anti-corporate political statement. Note the bias of listing “profit” without listing income taxes paid, rebates on medicare/medicaid purchases, or the Billions spent on Research and Development. And why does it not mention the major European or Japanese pharmaceuticals? Novartis & Glaxo are larger than several of the US companies listed on the chart.

    I’m not sure what angle the author of “Big, Bad Facts” is after, but obviously it is anti-US and anti-corporate profits. It’s a simple populist statement attacking evil corporations for earning profits. But, how many of us have mutual funds or retirement accounts that own corporations? If the very concept of corporate profit is so evil, why don’t we follow North Korea or Cuba’s example and eliminate them?

    What sensible questions should we ask instead?

    1) Are big pharma’s profits higher that other major corporations, like big oil or major financials? No, their profits are lower.

    2) Is there anything inherently wrong with a company (like Pfizer) that spent more money on income taxes plus R&D, than it earned in total profits? Personally, I can’t imagine who could see wrong in that!

    3) Then what is this “Big, Bad Facts” graphic? Nothing more than anti-US, anti-corporate profit PROPAGANDA!

    I would be glad to read anyone else’s opinion on this matter. But unless you are willing to distribute false “facts” in the name of propaganda, I wouldn’t tweet or otherwise distribute the “Big, Bad Facts” chart. If you have already distributed it, I would delete any tweets and/or send a correction. As I said before, internet “factoids” are generally false. I can’t begin to tell you how much false information I’ve found on the internet. Do some research before forwarding anything from an unreliable source.

    I’ve placed a link below for Pfizer’s 2012 audited financials since, unlike the numbers on the “Big, Bad” chart above – mine are not made up!

    Ref: http://www.pfizer.com/files/annualreport/2012/financial/financial2012.pdf

    • irwinlim

      I always enjoy your comments, Barry. I’m sure most of us know to take internet “facts” with a pinch of salt.

      I was happy to bring attention to the infographic as I found it interesting. The bottom line for me is that big pharma is indeed BIG!

      I am not corporate-world experienced so the figures mentioned seemed rather large and I felt it was of interest that pharma dealing with rheumatology drugs are so well represented.

      Hope all is well with you.