A common excuse for the lack of proper research in CAM is that “only Big Pharma can afford to do research”. Alt-Med apologists like to assert that there’s no money in it (homeopathy, herbal remedies etc) and so they can’t afford to do the research. I think that’s rubbish. Here’s why:
NIMH (the National Institute of Medicinal Herbalists) include an estimate from the World Health Organisation of the worth of the worldwide market in herbal medicine in a press release apparently from 2004. Can you guess what the value of this market was in 2004? “The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that the world market for herbal medicine is worth £41 billion.” According to a study by Alan Hamilton, a plant specialist from the global environment network WWF, “the market for herbal remedies in North America and Europe has been expanding by about 10 per cent a year for the last decade and the world market is now thought to be worth at least £11 billion”. The study by Alan Hamilton is referred to in the New Scientist here. (Published 08 January 2004). So we’re talking billions, then.
Homeopathic remedies have negligible production costs, due to the ingredients used. To take an example let’s look at Boiron, who had recorded revenues of approximately $525 million in 2006. The operating profit of the group’s was approximately $35 million during fiscal year 2006. The net profit was approximately $13.5 million in fiscal year 2006. With almost 1.5 billion euros (manufacturer’s price), the world sale of homeopathic drugs accounts for 0.3% of the world drug market. (boiron.com) Currency converter: http://www.xe.com/ucc/
As for supplements, well there’s no money around is there? Ahem. A Swiss Consumer Business sold for 2.38 billion euros, $1.2 billion spent per annum on energy supplements in the US alone (2001), and the UK market was valued at… £335 million in 2000 – PDF. Apparently, “the food supplement market in France in 2004 is valued at approximately 759 million Euros ($942 million), a 16 percent increase, compared to 2003. Although this is an increasingly active sector in France, it is modest compared to the total European market ($19 billion), and the world market ($56 billion).” http://www.fas.usda.gov/gainfiles/200510/146131357.pdf
“Alternative healthcare is composed of services which fall outside the mainstream of traditional care. The more popular therapies include osteopathy, chiropractic, aromatherapy, acupuncture, reflexology and homeopathy, among others. In 2000, expenditure on these services was estimated at £581m, or around 1% of the healthcare services market”. http://www.keynote.co.uk/Insight/UKHealthcarereport.pdf
There are other reasons why the excuse “only Big Pharma can afford to do research” won’t wash. After all, there are trials of CAM treatments, but many are poorly controlled. Dr Aust covered this in a blog post, expanding on the theme here. The Improbable Science blog covers funding of CAM trials here and here. Quackwatch also covers funding in a piece about NCCAM in the US. “After ten years of existence and over $200 million in expenditures, it has not proved effectiveness for any “alternative” method.”
As someone once said, it’s not cheaper to do a trial badly, it’s just stupid.
Update: this genius thinks that homeopathy being worth $500m means it works. Wrong. It means you can now afford to do proper trials. No Excuses. $$$$$