Where was your new medicine tested?

May 6, 2011

That’s what today’s special report by Ben Hirschler, “Big Pharma’s global guinea pigs,” is all about. If you live in the United States or Western Europe, you might be surprised to learn that most of the patients who took it in clinical trials probably lived in another part of the world altogether.

For the $850 billion-a-year pharmaceuticals industry, the globalisation of clinical trials into Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe has cut costs and opened new markets. Today, all new big drugs — whether for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis or depression — are tested in one emerging economy or other, and in many cases trials are scattered across dozens of countries.

It certainly brings a lot more people under the Western medical umbrella — but not everyone is happy. Some U.S. doctors worry data collected in faraway places may not be relevant to patients standing before them in their offices. Others fret over the ethics of testing rich-world medicines in poor countries.

Read the special report in multimedia PDF format here.

This graphic shows how things have changed in recent years:

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has an interactive map graphic showing the location of final-stage Phase III clinical trials around the world here.

This graphic picks out some notable trials in emerging market countries:

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