Corante

About this Author
DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

Chemistry and Drug Data: Drugbank
Emolecules
ChemSpider
Chempedia Lab
Synthetic Pages
Organic Chemistry Portal
PubChem
Not Voodoo
DailyMed
Druglib
Clinicaltrials.gov

Chemistry and Pharma Blogs:
Org Prep Daily
The Haystack
Kilomentor
A New Merck, Reviewed
Liberal Arts Chemistry
Electron Pusher
All Things Metathesis
C&E News Blogs
Chemiotics II
Chemical Space
Noel O'Blog
In Vivo Blog
Terra Sigilatta
BBSRC/Douglas Kell
ChemBark
Realizations in Biostatistics
Chemjobber
Pharmalot
ChemSpider Blog
Pharmagossip
Med-Chemist
Organic Chem - Education & Industry
Pharma Strategy Blog
No Name No Slogan
Practical Fragments
SimBioSys
The Curious Wavefunction
Natural Product Man
Fragment Literature
Chemistry World Blog
Synthetic Nature
Chemistry Blog
Synthesizing Ideas
Business|Bytes|Genes|Molecules
Eye on FDA
Chemical Forums
Depth-First
Symyx Blog
Sceptical Chymist
Lamentations on Chemistry
Computational Organic Chemistry
Mining Drugs
Henry Rzepa


Science Blogs and News:
Bad Science
The Loom
Uncertain Principles
Fierce Biotech
Blogs for Industry
Omics! Omics!
Young Female Scientist
Notional Slurry
Nobel Intent
SciTech Daily
Science Blog
FuturePundit
Aetiology
Gene Expression (I)
Gene Expression (II)
Sciencebase
Pharyngula
Adventures in Ethics and Science
Transterrestrial Musings
Slashdot Science
Cosmic Variance
Biology News Net


Medical Blogs
DB's Medical Rants
Science-Based Medicine
GruntDoc
Respectful Insolence
Diabetes Mine


Economics and Business
Marginal Revolution
The Volokh Conspiracy
Knowledge Problem


Politics / Current Events
Virginia Postrel
Instapundit
Belmont Club
Mickey Kaus


Belles Lettres
Uncouth Reflections
Arts and Letters Daily
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

In the Pipeline

« BMS vs. Imclone: Godzilla Exchanges Legal Language With Mothra | Main | Neil Bartlett, 1932-2008 »

September 15, 2008

Extracting Money From Matthias Rath, For A Change

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

I need some cheering up this morning – one of my favorite writers, David Foster Wallace, has died most unexpectedly. Perhaps, in looking back over his best work, it wasn’t as unexpected as all that, but you still never see these things coming.

So I’m glad to report, by contrast, that Dr. Matthias Rath has some problems of his own. Rath, some of you may recall, is one of those people who usually has “controversial” somewhere in front of his name in news articles. I’ve never thought of him that way myself: he’s always seemed just a particularly brazen and heartless con artist. He’s made large sums of money by telling HIV-infected patients that antiretroviral drugs are killing them, and that they should instead cure themselves with vitamin supplements purchased from, yes, Dr. Rath. His rants about the pharmaceutical industry are contemptible – Rath claims, naturally, that we’re a gang of evil poisoners, which is at least a field that he knows something about. He’s one of those people that you’re ashamed to share DNA homology with.

To be scrupulously fair, Rath appears to have distributed his supplements for free to the poorest patients in places like South Africa, which has surely brought down his average profit-per-suffering-death. But he’s been happy to tell wealthier customers in the US and Europe that he can not only cure HIV infection, but various cancers and other fatal ailments, with no convincing data of any kind to back up such claims.

Ben Goldacre, the estimable Bad Science columnist for the Guardian newspaper, ran a column in early 2007 on Rath and his work in South Africa, and followed that up with two more containing disparaging references. Not caring for this sort of publicity, the Dr. Rath Foundation sued for libel. (Goldacre is no stranger to threats of legal action, it seems). I am happy to report that the suit has now been dropped, and that Rath has been ordered to pay legal costs, which are gratifyingly extensive.

It now seems that the Dr. Rath Foundation is moving on to the profitable Russian market – with plenty of bad health and plenty of money sloshing around, it would seem a natural feeding ground for a creature of his type. I hope that the Guardian is able to collect its money in short order, and that Ben Goldacre gets a cut.

Comments (27) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Snake Oil


COMMENTS

1. Retread on September 15, 2008 8:02 AM writes...

There will always be Dr. Raths in this world. As a neurologist practicing in the states back in the 70s and 80s, some of my patients would hie themselves to Germany, to get snake venom for their MS. They paid a lot for this, and (of course) had to stay in a motel owned by the fraudster. I'd argue with them not to go, but the charlatan gave them something, I could not give -- hope.

On a more somber note, the passing of David Foster Wallace is truly tragic. Since he wrote his honors thesis at Amherst on modal logic, and since I've got some friends in the math department there, I'll see if any of them remember him.

I got into his work, not by any literary production, but by his book "Everything and More" about mathematics (which was roundly panned in the mathematics journals). I found his work frightening because the man wrote the way I think -- it's not stream of consciousness, but full of relevant asides and unusual juxtapositions. No other writer comes close to this style. I don't try to mimic him, but some of the Chemiotics posts are Wallace-like. A great loss.

Permalink to Comment

2. Zeke on September 15, 2008 8:17 AM writes...

No wonder the pharma folks hold Dr. Rath in such contempt- only they have a right to peddle expensive, ineffective and often dangerous compounds to patients.

Pharma has repeatedly shown that it hates competition.

Permalink to Comment

3. Derek Lowe on September 15, 2008 8:25 AM writes...

Zeke, you don't even know how bad it really is. Not only do we get to peddle those dangerous compounds, but we have to test them in people first! For years!

And sometimes they don't work, and we can't even sell them after the tests, and if they harm too many people we stop right in our tracks and the compound never sees the light of day again. Oh, it's some conspiracy, I can tell you.

Permalink to Comment

4. Timothy on September 15, 2008 8:27 AM writes...

Zeke - Thanks for that tidbit, but the adults have work to do. Now don't you have a leeching to get to and some mercury to drink to balance those humors of yours?

Permalink to Comment

5. dave on September 15, 2008 9:19 AM writes...

Aside from being sued where ever this Rath goes, I would think by now we would have established something through the WHO that would watch these people and potentially bar them from practicing. The internet certainly helps the word-of-mouth, but not necessarily in developing countries.

People like Rath who have far-fetched ideas are not necessarily bad, but if he spent 1/2 the time/money he did in court, by backing up the science (his therapies...not that antiretrovirals kill you), it might provide some added benefit. I feel sorry for his patients.

Permalink to Comment

6. Zeke on September 15, 2008 11:32 AM writes...

This proves the common assumption that most scientific types really have no sense of humor and cannot understand such nuances as irony and satire.

Permalink to Comment

7. Derek Lowe on September 15, 2008 12:26 PM writes...

Nah, that's not it, Zeke. Most of us only respond to satire that's amusing and/or intelligent - that's the problem. It would also help not to sound exactly like the previous umpteen dozen trolls - lack of attention to such details tends to dull the cutting blade of one's wit.

Permalink to Comment

8. Chrispy on September 15, 2008 2:03 PM writes...


This reminds me of the recent sentencing of Steven Warshak of Smilin Bob/Enzyte fame to 25 years in prison for misrepresenting their supplement as a drug. I always wondered how those commercials could possibly be legal -- guess they weren't!

And as for DFW, I had the good fortune to see him speak at a commencement address, and it was such a good speech that I was inspired to read "Broom of the System" -- which was a good book, too. The world is not as good a place without him!

Permalink to Comment

9. satan on September 15, 2008 6:01 PM writes...

On an unrelated note- have a look at Calculated Risk (http://calculatedrisk.blogspot.com). I have followed that site (and other economics based blogs) for about 3 years.

There is a strong similarity between the attitudes and behaviors that had caused the crisis in financial world to those that are destroying big pharma and other industries that used to be productive and innovative. These include excessive greed, short-sightedness, hubris, magical thinking, management techniques, excessive trust in shiny new methods and paradigms etc.

Permalink to Comment

10. Skeptic on September 15, 2008 6:19 PM writes...

So what. The mathematician Serge Lang was an outright AIDS denialist. I wonder why Derek hasn't called him a kook yet.

"His most controversial political stance was as an AIDS denialist; he maintained that the prevailing scientific consensus that HIV causes AIDS has not been backed up by reliable scientific research, yet for political/commercial reasons further research questioning the current point of view is suppressed. In public he was very outspoken about this point and a portion of Challenges is devoted to this issue."

As far as being a con artist, well, just look at WS and corporate management these days: chock full of them. Heck, I bet Derek is on the payroll for shilling for one of them right now.

Permalink to Comment

11. SRC on September 15, 2008 10:46 PM writes...

Thanks for the great news, Chrispy.

I've always viewed the Rath/Trudeau/Warshak pitches as a sort of pons asinorum, a tool (no pun intended...no, I lie - actually, it was) for identifying the cognitively disenfranchised.

Darwin works in mysterious ways, his wonders to achieve...

Permalink to Comment

12. processchemist on September 16, 2008 3:38 AM writes...

Apart from snake oil vendors (on my side of the ocean more than ten years ago an old MD gained a lot of attention with his somatostatine based anticancer therapy - no effect shown in some partial clinical trials) there is a fact that cannot be denied: some "supplements" (plant extracts over all) HAVE a pharmacologic activity, but not a drug status. And this is true also for some pure natural compounds. An example: adenomethionine, drug in the EC, supplement in US.Same for glucosamine.
And as you all know, at the present our employers seek for new proprietary compounds that can avoid most of the unfair competition. This exclude quite a lot of natural products having a known activity (some rosmarinone derived terpenes in the field of alcohol or anfetamine addiction are an example).

Permalink to Comment

13. Morten on September 16, 2008 4:03 AM writes...

Also there was a study recently which showed omega-3 as more effective than statins in preventing heart disease. Quite the price difference.

Permalink to Comment

14. Lesley Lawson on September 16, 2008 4:12 AM writes...

The Rath saga/Big Pharma conspiracy illustrates how easy it is for non-scientists - often with the best intentions and left wing credentials - to be bamboozled by these issues. My book "Side Effects" shows how this played out in the whole South African AIDS tragedy.
Lesley Lawson

Permalink to Comment

15. Derek Lowe on September 16, 2008 5:44 AM writes...

Skeptic, Serge Lang was a person who was definitely not afraid to take positions that made him unpopular, that's for sure. And he seems to have devoted an extraordinary amount of his time and effort to never, ever, backing down or letting go of any controversy he attached himself to.

But I'm not sure what his background in medicine or biology was - should I treat his med-chem opinions with the same respect with which he would have treated mine on higher mathematics?

The problem with AIDS denialism these days is that the antiretroviral drugs actually do seem to be prolonging lives. That makes it harder for some of the alternative theories that were running around during the 1990s to stand up. And yes, if Serge Lang (before his death in 2005) did call for people to stop taking the drugs because they were poisons (as Matthias Rath has), then I would have no problem calling him some names. And if he (like Rath) had founded his own vitamin company and urged patients to buy those instead, I would have no problem calling him far worse.

Permalink to Comment

16. kumar on September 16, 2008 6:58 AM writes...

In India you can find many “Raths”, at least one per street. Now a days people stopped believing them and these Raths don’t have enough business

Permalink to Comment

17. CC on September 16, 2008 8:23 AM writes...

So what. The mathematician Serge Lang was an outright AIDS denialist. I wonder why Derek hasn't called him a kook yet.

I had Serge Lang for multivariate calculus, and can assure you that he was a 100% kook, as well as perhaps the worst author in the long history of mathematics texts.

Permalink to Comment

18. yttrai on September 16, 2008 8:34 AM writes...

"Zeke, you don't even know how bad it really is. Not only do we get to peddle those dangerous compounds, but we have to test them in people first! For years!

And sometimes they don't work, and we can't even sell them after the tests, and if they harm too many people we stop right in our tracks and the compound never sees the light of day again. Oh, it's some conspiracy, I can tell you."

This is going into my giant file of useful quotes, to be pulled out and quoted verbatim, or paraphrased as needed for the situation.

With credit to the original source, of course. Thank you, Derek, for giving us the tools with which to hold up our ends of the debate time after time :)

Permalink to Comment

19. MTK on September 16, 2008 8:34 AM writes...

Morten,

I believe you've pointed out the crucial difference between the snake oil peddlers and others, namely studies.

No one is saying that items we would not consider drugs are all junk, but rather that without scientific verfication it's impossible to know.

So when there's no scientific verification, someone is pitching it aggressively, and it cures just about everything under the sun, that's three strikes in my book.

Permalink to Comment

20. yttrai on September 16, 2008 8:36 AM writes...

"Zeke, you don't even know how bad it really is. Not only do we get to peddle those dangerous compounds, but we have to test them in people first! For years!

And sometimes they don't work, and we can't even sell them after the tests, and if they harm too many people we stop right in our tracks and the compound never sees the light of day again. Oh, it's some conspiracy, I can tell you."

This is going into my giant file of useful quotes, to be pulled out and quoted verbatim, or paraphrased as needed for the situation.

With credit to the original source, of course. Thank you, Derek, for giving us the tools with which to hold up our ends of the debate time after time :)

Permalink to Comment

21. Hap on September 16, 2008 9:45 AM writes...

Ouch. I hadn't realized, and am sorry to hear, that DFW had died. I liked his book of essays a lot, and his book on infinity. I liked Infinite Jest, too, once I could figure out what was going on, because his characters didn't suck and I was in Boston, once upon a time.

I didn't know that those Enzyte ads weren't selling something useful, I swear - the phrase "male enhancement" (common to the ads at the rear of semi-reputable men's magazines) would not have given me any idea at all. Maybe their proprietor can share a small dark room with Rath for a few years - Russian prisons are really nice this time of year.

Permalink to Comment

22. processchemist on September 16, 2008 10:59 AM writes...

One more reason to read this blog: never heard about Enzyte before! Wonderful: they took away from the formulation the only ingredient active (in promoting erection, NOT in getting anything longer): yohimbe extract (not standardized, I suppose, you can found plenty of indian or chinese suppliers that can you ship FCL of the cheapest product around).
In my country the main market for these borderline type vendors (borderline between easy money and sure jail) is the one of the "slimming supplements", alias formulations with many names and one only ingredient: Chitosan.
About this beautiful world, visiting Vitafoods can be an eye-opening experience: thousands of tons of sucralose, omega 3 , chitosan, n-acetylglucosamine of asian origin waiting to submerge the western market.
And if someone is buying 100 kg of food grade (?) chitosan , how many boxes of his "fast slimming miracle" is gonna sell?

Permalink to Comment

23. Kent G. Budge on September 16, 2008 12:59 PM writes...

"ack of attention to such details tends to dull the cutting blade of one's wit."

Are you sure it was ever sharp in the first place?

Zeke is probably feeling blue. Colloidal silver will do that to you.

Permalink to Comment

24. Curious Wavefunction on September 16, 2008 2:21 PM writes...

Maybe colloidal gold can cure him...

Permalink to Comment

25. Joe on October 15, 2008 8:04 PM writes...

Sad to see so many of you do not have the eyes to see or the ears to hear. Every year more people die from the side effects of prescribed drugs than all the people who died in WW2 AND Viet Nam combined.When was the last time you heard of someone dying from a vitamin overdose? Try to be open to the truth and stop being led by your nose

Permalink to Comment

26. Chris on November 27, 2008 6:42 AM writes...

Dr Matthias Rath has just cured my mother of cancer. He is a wonderful man and didn't charge a cent for his service.

Permalink to Comment

27. daen on November 27, 2008 8:18 AM writes...

The section in Wallace's Wikipedia entry concerning the circumstances of his suicide makes for tough reading. While noting that antidepressant medication "helped him be productive" through twenty years of depression, it also states that the side effects were sufficiently severe that he "weaned himself from ... Nardil" and his depression returned. After electroconvulsive therapy, he tried to return to Nardil, without success.

If anything should be an inspiration for future generations of medicinal chemists, developing better drugs to manage depression, without such severe side effects, should be quite high on the list.

This "Rolling Stone" story covers the salient points.

Permalink to Comment

POST A COMMENT




Remember Me?



EMAIL THIS ENTRY TO A FRIEND

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):




RELATED ENTRIES
How Not to Do It: NMR Magnets
Allergan Escapes Valeant
Vytorin Actually Works
Fatalities at DuPont
The New York TImes on Drug Discovery
How Are Things at Princeton?
Phage-Derived Catalysts
Our Most Snorted-At Papers This Month. . .