“So now we are outsourcing the jobs of lab animals to India? I shudder to think what the ‘No Indian testing’ label will be in Europe…” reads a post by nizo at [] at slashdot. An anonymous post at the same site reads, “Are you kidding? The unemployment rate for lab rats will skyrocket! How are the poor rats supposed to feed their kids? Won’t somebody think of the rat children?”

Given the poor regulation systems, low levels of literacy, proclivity to accept free medicines (rather than buying them) and an almost blind and unquestioning faith in doctor ‘sahib’, this new industry poses some very tricky ‘challenges’ for the regulators, pharmaceutical companies, doctors, hospitals and research organizations. It is not difficult to replace the word ‘challenges’ with ‘opportunities’ if you are part of those organizations or ‘disasters waiting to happen’ if you are part of the thinking civil society.

According to a BBC story, an experimental drug called M4N was injected into cancer patients in India without being properly tested on animals first, and without the knowledge of some of the participants. The article quotes Parshottam Parmar, an unsuspecting participant of a clinical trial “I didn’t know that experiments were being carried out on me. I was told that the old drugs were discontinued and were no longer available in the pharmacies… We just sign because I believe the doctor takes the signature to help us.”

According to a Wired article, the Indian government has amended a long standing law and withdrawn the constraint that limited foreign pharmaceutical companies “to test drugs on Indian patients only after the drugs had been proven safe in trials conducted in the country of origin”. The article continues to quote Dr S. P. Kalantri and drives one of the key issues home: “Nine out of 10 times the patient will ask me to make the decision about the trial for him. So what role do I play? Am I a physician, concentrating on what’s best for the patient? Or am I a researcher interested in recruiting patients?” According to him, many private hospital doctors have turned into researchers and are making a lot of money in the bargain.

BBC story: Drug trials outsourced to India
Wired story: A Nation of Guinea Pigs
Financial Express: Outsourcing in pharma seen growing

BTW if you search for “A Nation of Guinea Pigs” which is the name of the Wired article at the Wired site you don’t find the article but if you search for it at Google the first article is the Wired article. No wonder we have all forgotten that Lycos was once an important search engine, perhaps before Google was even conceived.

First published on May 4, 2006