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Pharma by Design:
Designer Diseases and Drugs

by Linda Jenkinson |

Looking for a wonder drug?

I ran across this meme on Facebook the other day:

Cannabis is illegal because it can treat cancer, PTSD, seizures,anxiety, glaucoma, and depression which means no money for pharmaceutical companies

When this same meme was posted to Senator Elizabeth Warren, she tweeted back, “Medical experts agree: Whatever you think of medical marijuana, it's irresponsible not to study the science.”

Although I agree with Senator Warren, I sincerely hope that it is not left to pharmaceutical companies to undertake the studies. Marijuana is a natural, easily grown plant that blooms with dozens of testimonials to its effectiveness in treating a host of diseases(1,2).

While congress stalls on legalizing marijuana, big pharma continues to lead both consumers and the medical community down the garden path of designer diseases and their companion drugs. Like other crops that have suffered through corporate greed and mismanagement, putting the fate of Marijuana into the hands of big pharma will most likely hinder its progress more than help it. Because big pharma cannot claim development of marijuana, they have no promise of financial gain and therefore no reason to execute an unbiased and comprehensive study.

According to the National Geographic video Tricks of the Pharma Industry, many modern studies are corrupted with the bias of pharmaceutical funding. These studies are geared to show how effective the drug is, not the dangers of the drug. They are rife with conflicts of interest resulting in ambiguous results for both physicians as well as the patients that they serve.

A rash of designer diseases infects US television airways, each with a corresponding designer drug ready and pseudo-tested to cure it. That is, until the ‘side effects’ rear their ugly faces and attorneys can hop on the cash bandwagon of class action suits. Let’s look at a few of them.


Although shingles has been around for a long time, I classify it as a ‘designer disease’ because of its recent popularity in Merck & Co’s advertising. Merck developed the Herpes Zoster, the shingles vaccine which they named Zostavax. It is presently the only FDA approved vaccine for shingles. According to Merck's advertising, 1 in 3 adults who have had chicken pox, will contract shingles.

During a recent physical, I asked my doctor’s nurse if there were any reported cases of Shingles in Winona or the surrounding area. She said, “No.”

I asked her if she knew anybody that has had shingles. Again she answered, “No.” Finally I asked her if she was vaccinated against Shingles. Same answer, “No.”

That’s good enough for me because, while I know a lot of people who have had chicken pox, I don’t know anyone who has had shingles. Considering in my area, Zostavax costs up to $50.00 with insurance and up to $250.00 if you are uninsured, I’ll pass.


Do you remember RLS (Restless leg syndrome)? Comedian Robert Klein helped it gain national attention through his video, “I Can’t Stop My Leg”. Although RLS was quite popular for a while, you don’t hear much about it any more. Not because it has been cured, but because, although it is a real condition, it just doesn’t affect that many people. The NIH (National Institute of Health) estimates that RLS affects about 10 million people, or 3% of the US population(3). Apparently that slice of population wasn’t large enough for big pharma to create a knee-jerk reaction to its advertising campaign.

Three in 100 people have RLS and the ways to treat it are markedly diverse if you read about it on either the Mayo Clinic web site or Web MD.


Another newer entry into the designer disease arena is OAB or Over Active Bladder. The television commercials show a woman’s bladder leading her away from social activities with demands that it must go now.

The NIH estimates that about 5.5% of the population has some form of OAB(4). Besides medication, treatments can range from dietary and behavioral changes to surgery. Again, I am inclined to believe that the percentage of people who suffer from this malady to the point of needing medication to treat it, is minuscule at best.

Only two major studies have been done on OAB, as reported by the NIH and both of them were funded by Pharmacia Corporation, a company which was started by Monsanto and is now owned by the pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer. Enough said?


Although there are plenty more designer diseases, there is only so much room, even on a web page, so I’ll just quickly mention one more. IBS, also known as Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Sometimes it is accompanied by “D” for diarrhea (IBS-D) and sometimes “C” for constipation(IBS-C). Does it seem odd to you that the same condition could have two such opposite symptoms? It can often be controlled by diet and/or behavioral changes, but of course Pharma doesn’t get rich from dietary controls or behavioral changes.

The main reason I mention IBS is because of the acronym. Whether it's with constipation or with diarrhea, the phrase "irritable bowel syndrome" doesn't conjure up a very welcoming visual. More and more, pharmaceutical companies are replacing named diseases with their acronyms. As well as making these designer diseases sound less intimidating, these acronyms also make them sound more scientific. In other words, they are dumbing these diseases down, which inhibits your ability to completely understand them.

My advice is, don’t be fooled by acronyms. If you have a medical problem, talk to your doctor about the problem and its symptoms. See if the two of you can put your heads together to design a successful treatment plan, not necessarily with the intervention of big pharma.


  1. “Cannabis Patient Network |” Accessed June 10, 2016.
  2. “Testimonials in Support of Medical Marijuana | Minnesotans for Compassionate Care.” Accessed June 10, 2016.
  3. “Restless Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet.” Accessed June 9, 2016.
  4. “Clinical Impact of Overactive Bladder.” Accessed June 10, 2016.

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