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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Save R&D millions – Go launch a Placebo !

Obviously you don’t call the carpenter to fix a broken limb. Or would you summon the plumber to get some portfolio advise…?

I was really amazed when I read about this in Bessemer VC David Cowan’s blog. Cowan was ranting about Airborne a hit pill in the US, “ to be taken when you get the first symptoms of common cold ” ( note – they don’t advertise it anywhere as a `drug’ to “cure common cold ).

Cowan while acknowledging Airborne as a phenomenal success ( sales have topped $ 100 million ), classifies it as a “highly scalable theft“ by a Second Grade School Teacher who developed it. According to Cowan, the pill itself is nothing but some placebo vitamins, some commercially tired herbs and the electrolytes you get from a swish of Gatorade. But Airborne's success springs from a remarkably shrewd and sinister campaign that employs a number of diversions to mislead the public without blatantly violating any laws. Essentially, the clever marketing messages and packaging suggest that Airborne cures the common cold, without ever actually saying so.

While I read the comments on that Cowan’s post, I could find more people endorsing the curative properties of the product. Proof of the pudding, may be.

There’s also this feature article by Skeptic columnist Michael Shermer endorsing Cowan’s observations. Shermer consulted a retired surgeon on this and was advised to stick with chicken soup instead !

When Ranbaxy and Dr.Reddy’s Labs have had to fight several million $$ lawsuits overseas ( winning some, losing other ) to manufacture and distribute several patent expiring drugs in the US, how come such artful dodgers escape all regulatory traps and hit it off in those markets…?! In this case, Airborne CEO Elise Donahue goes on Air in Good Morning America and even admits that “ We don't know if Airborne is a … cure for the common cold ”. Bravo, land of the free indeed !

Sauce only for the goose ? I don’t intend to trigger a debate. Can’t stop wondering just yet. Is it not protectionism of a different kind, the tariffs on imports and the agriculture subsidies in the third world which the US reps shamelessly rattle against at every GATT / WTO rounds to ensure the talks fail ?


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