Big Pharma tests meds on homeless people
Nothing about this sounds ethical.
This was my introduction to South Coast Clinical Trials, a chain of private research sites in Southern California that specializes in testing psychiatric drugs. Pharmaceutical companies now typically outsource clinical studies to contract research organizations like South Coast, which run trials faster and at lower cost than universities do. Their job is simply to follow the instructions of their sponsors. This formula is working: The contract research industry has grown steadily since the early 1990s and may now generate over $100 billion in annual income, according to the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development. At the top of the heap are corporations like Quintiles, which has 28,000 employees and operates in about 100 countries. At the other end are private physicians and small companies like South Coast, which are often based in strip malls or suburban office parks.
Dan Sfera, the owner of South Coast, has produced scores of web videos like this one, the ostensible purpose of which is to demystify drug research. (The unstated purpose, of course, is to generate business for their psychiatric research facilities.) I visited Sfera and his colleague Don Walters not long after watching the video, and they introduced me to a research subject named Steve, who vouched for the good intentions of South Coast clinic staffers. “I love this place,” he said. “It’s awesome. They don’t treat you like you have a mental illness.” A middle-aged man with a short, gray-flecked beard, Steve was starting an outpatient study of Depakote, a seizure drug that is sometimes prescribed for bipolar disorder. He had arrived at the clinic wearing red gym shorts and bedroom slippers. Over the summer, Steve told me, he’d been hospitalized for four weeks and had received eight rounds of electroconvulsive therapy. As he spoke, his hands trembled so violently that he spilled his coffee on the floor. He seemed preoccupied with his roommate, who he said hadn’t showered for weeks. “The man’s got toenails this long,” he said, holding his fingers inches apart.