The fact that animal tests are an unsafe guide to drug safety ought to be a strong incentive to restrict new medicines to those for which there is a clinical need, so that hazards can be minimised. Yet an analysis of new medicines introduced onto the world market over a recent ten year period reveals that over 70% offered no therapeutic improvement over existing products(7).
Medicines which offer little or no improvement are referred to as "me too" drugs and are usually developed because they are a good financial investment. They are considered to have no major advantages over existing products. They also keep drug prices high and confuse doctors faced with a choice of many drugs all doing the same thing(8). Britain’s prestigious Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin states that " the existence of many apparently similar preparations seldom increases therapeutic options but greatly increases the risk of unwanted effects". The Bulletin concludes that the use of a smaller number of medicines should increase the knowledge of their real benefits and hazards so leading to safer prescribing(9).
The adoption of a national medicines policy based on the World Health Organisation’s concept of essential drugs(10) could bring a dramatic reduction in drug-increased disease whilst the financial savings could be used more productively to increase the proportion spent on disease prevention. The WHO has issued a list of around 250 basic drugs to treat the majority of the world’s diseases.
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