A recent article in Bokee about human guinea pigs that test out new and experimental drugs for a living or sometimes just for a kick. The article says that there are three different types of people that do this:
1. university students who might be studying medicine and could use the cash, 2. people who want to further the cause of medicine (and who might be sick themselves, and thus have a stake in it), and 3. people who are in it just for the money.
The sub-hed of the article is what really caught our attention, because it posits a link between people that used to sell blood (which is much less common now than before?) and professional guinea pigs. One of the people profiled in the article made the transition, and you have to admit, it was a good career choice. You can make 1700 RMB for a couple of tests and days of observation. Sometimes even fairly simple one-time tests can net you 900 RMB. Compare this to the compensation for selling your blood—50ml fetches you 100RMB, and there was risk, more in the past than now, that you could contract AIDS.
The article mentions that the university students in the trials are often students of medicine, and many from disadvantaged background for whom a cool thousand or more would do wonders for their finances. There was also mention of a cancer patient that was doing it because this was the best way to get medicines on a regular basis.
The phenomenon isn’t exactly new. A Xinhua editorial asked “when can peasant and migrant workers stop being lab rats.” The picture you see above came from that article, which was dated 2005.
More recently, there have been a bunch of articles about big pharmaceutical companies outsourcing to India in China. The idea is to speed up the development process so that drugs can, supposedly, get into the hands of (first-world) consumers faster. There are no shortage of patients without access to drugs. In India, there are 32 million diabetics, and what’s more doctors get some perks as well—vacations to nice places, stuff they couldn’t otherwise afford. The combined rate of growth of India and China is a whopping 15.3% annually, and China is set to become the fifth-largest pharmaceutical market in the world by 2010. It’s not just big pharma from the US, but from everywhere—the UK, Switzerland, etc. Everyone’s doing it, and in order to compete, even more of the more process will be oursourced in the future. One of the articles we linked to, from Wired, talks about the collateral damage that occurs when you have these trials of new drugs done on a largely poor and illiterate population in India. There’s supposedly a decent regulatory infrastructure there. We don’t know if that’s true, but what about China, then? The article on Bokee.com says that all the patients sign contracts and thereby have some measure of legal protection. But what’s the real story? Has anyone suffered serious side effects or actual decline in health by taking trial medicine? As usual, there are no ready answers out there. If you’ve read anything about this, please point us in the right direction.
*We’re from New Jersey and therefore allowed to make gratuitous and totally unwelcome Bon Jovi references.
Picture from Xinhua.