Medical testing under fire

  • 2011-02-09
  • From wire reports

TALLINN - Two investigative journalists with the American magazine Vanity Fair paint a picture, in their article in the January issue, of Estonia as a country where large Western pharmaceutical companies conduct pharmaceutical testing on people that they would find much harder to carry out in their home country, reports Postimees. Veteran reporters Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele mention Estonia in the article “Deadly Medicine” as one of the favorite countries for Western firms to conduct medicine testing in, alongside Russia, Colombia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Serbia, Bulgaria and others, where test subjects can be attracted to participate in the studies for relatively small amounts of money, where the supervision over the tests is weak and where it is easy to obtain the kind of results that satisfy pharmaceutical firms.

Estonian Pharmaceutical Board deputy director general Alar Irs, however, said that Estonia cannot be accused of any of these flaws that the journalists write about. “Estonia and the rest of the European Union are not places where it would be cheap to conduct tests or where it would be easy to get permission for the tests,” he said.
Social Ministry pharmaceutical department acting head Dagmar Ruutel also said that the Estonian Pharmaceutical Board or ethics committee are not doing a bad job when giving permission for medicine testing or in supervising the work. He said that the poor quality of studies would come to light in any case. “This has not occurred in relation with studies conducted in Estonia,” she said.

It is true, though, that in the second half of the 1990s, Western pharmaceutical giants moved their medicine testing to Eastern Europe, including Estonia, due to its developed healthcare system and good work culture. Ruutel said that Estonia’s advantage was in a reasonable balance of quality of studies and price. While in 1995, the Pharmaceutical Board received 13 applications for medicine research, the next year this doubled, and by 2007 grew to 93. Irs said that the board rejects 1-2 applications a year. The majority of the studies are international and conducted simultaneously in many EU states. “American and European Pharmaceutical Authorities have inspected the studies in Estonia and have not found anything creating concern,” Irs said.

In the last three years, the number of applications has fallen, last year to 75. Irs assumed that this is because Eastern Europe isn’t as inexpensive for large pharmaceutical firms anymore; they have moved on to Russia and Asia.