I disagree with what Llewellyn King said in his essay, “The shame of biomedical research across the U.S.,” which appeared on the Observer-Reporter’s commentary page Jan. 26. In the essay, King faults pharmaceutical companies and the National Institutes of Health for their failure in developing therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome. This reflects his lack of understanding for the potential and limits of biomedical research by pharmaceutical companies.
Dr. Janet Rowley, who died Dec. 17, discovered the specific crossover between chromosomes 9 and 22, resulting in the BCR-ABL1 fusion gene, also called the Philadelphia chromosome, which is responsible for chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). The subsequent development of tyrosine kinase inhibitors, such as Gleevec, has since rendered the once-dreaded CML into a chronic disease, with over 90 percent of patients enjoying a normal lifespan. This is a perfect example of how pharmaceutical companies reap what basic biomedical research sows.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a totally different story. Experts have difficulty defining it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases have both published and revised definitions several times. Theories of its causes abound, but there is no consensus.
King lamented the cutback of NIH funding for basic biomedical research, which, I agree, is shortsighted. This is not to say that the NIH shouldn’t fund research on chronic fatigue syndrome, but blaming Big Pharma at this point is missing the point.