Life-Saving Killer Drugs

Drug safety is a leading factor in determining how medicines are regulated – trumping consideration of their comparative benefits. But, rather than assess a medicine’s safety in isolation, its adverse effects should be considered in relation to its efficacy for particular patients.

LONDON – The harmful effects of medicines capture headlines worldwide. After all, horror stories about “killer drugs” are easy to sell. But, while drugs’ damaging effects are a legitimate cause for concern, they do not necessarily constitute a serious public-health issue, provided that they are outweighed by the benefits they confer.

Drugs with serious adverse safety profiles are used to treat potentially fatal conditions – including various forms of cancer, inflammatory arthritis, and HIV – because they ultimately help more than they hurt. Rather than assess a medicine’s safety in isolation, its adverse effects must be considered in relation to its efficacy. In other words, a benefit-risk balance must be struck.

But getting this message across to the public has proven to be difficult. Successful drug treatment and disease prevention can fail to capture the attention of readers or voters. Moreover, drug safety is a leading factor in determining how medicines are regulated.

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