Why are placebos gaining ground?  This is a really good question and is it sometimes mind over matter?  Granted bringing a new drug to market today is far more complicated and expensive that perhaps what it has been in years past.  With placebos, I’m sure there’s a lot of open area for discussion as an example with “psyche drugs”.  image

Genomics has also entered the picture and thus altering the way a protein functions in our body is a bit different compared to just a chemistry structure too, and both areas of course are also combined with research.   Are we finding out the human mind is much stronger even than what we originally thought?  This also leaves a lot of development companies in the cold when clinical trials show the placebo effect is ahead, and so when entering into the areas where placebos are used, it’s a big unknown. Not all clinical trials use placebos, so if you are participating in one, be sure to read all the provisions, as cancer treatments normally are not included with placebo studies for obvious reasons.  

Interesting comment at the end about how clinical trials in the past were run with patients being dosed at a level to overcome side effects?  We don’t ignore those today.  BD 

The upshot is fewer new medicines available to ailing patients and more financial woes for the beleaguered pharmaceutical industry. Last November, a new type of gene therapy for Parkinson's disease, championed by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, was abruptly withdrawn from Phase II trials after unexpectedly tanking against placebo. A stem-cell startup called Osiris Therapeutics got a drubbing on Wall Street in March, when it suspended trials of its pill for Crohn's disease, an intestinal ailment, citing an "unusually high" response to placebo. Two days later, Eli Lilly broke off testing of a much-touted new drug for schizophrenia when volunteers showed double the expected level of placebo response.

It's not only trials of new drugs that are crossing the futility boundary. Some products that have been on the market for decades, like Prozac, are faltering in more recent follow-up tests. In many cases, these are the compounds that, in the late '90s, made Big Pharma more profitable than Big Oil. But if these same drugs were vetted now, the FDA might not approve some of them. Two comprehensive analyses of antidepressant trials have uncovered a dramatic increase in placebo response since the 1980s. One estimated that the so-called effect size (a measure of statistical significance) in placebo groups had nearly doubled over that time.

It's not that the old meds are getting weaker, drug developers say. It's as if the placebo effect is somehow getting stronger.

The roots of the placebo problem can be traced to a lie told by an Army nurse during World War II as Allied forces stormed the beaches of southern Italy. The nurse was assisting an anesthetist named Henry Beecher, who was tending to US troops under heavy German bombardment. When the morphine supply ran low, the nurse assured a wounded soldier that he was getting a shot of potent painkiller, though her syringe contained only salt water. Amazingly, the bogus injection relieved the soldier's agony and prevented the onset of shock.

Pharmaceutical companies would simply dose volunteers with an experimental agent until the side effects swamped the presumed benefits. Beecher proposed that if test subjects could be compared to a group that received a placebo, health officials would finally have an impartial way to determine whether a medicine was actually responsible for making a patient better.

Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why.


  1. Its a very interesting dynamic that this brings to the world of pharmaceutical research since a changing baseline of comparison makes its hard to determine which research is worth pursuing.

  2. It is because we always want to have the drug has fast as we can on the market. One thing which is demonstrated is that a placebo does not have as long effect in time (even it means 2 years for some illness) as a drug.