April 14, 2024

A dog’s life

Pfizer has a solution for the canine obesity epidemic.

Drug giant Pfizer has the answer to a global epidemic of obesity, a
drug called Slentrol which decreases appetite. But the drug is not
meant for you, but for your dog. Apparently, between 25% and 40% of
canines in the US and Europe are overweight or obese; in the US alone,
there are 17 million fat dogs. "By helping dog owners think about their
dog’s lifestyle, we are hoping to lessen the prevalence of this serious
medical condition so dogs can live healthier, more active lives," says
George Fennell, of Pfizer’s US Companion Animal Division. With Slentrol
costing about US$2 a day, there is a huge potential demand for the
product. Pfizer is currently introducing it in Europe after launching
it in the US last year. And Slentrol is just one drug amongst many.
According to a survey of the pet industry in Business Week last year,
Americans spend about $9.9 billion each year in drugs for their pets,
including a kind of Prozac for pooches, Reconcile, which is meant to
treat "canine separation anxiety".

It’s not Pfizer’s doing of course, but this contrasts sharply with
World Health Organisation figures for the 1 billion people who suffer
from 14 major neglected tropical diseases, including cholera, dengue
fever, yaws, sleeping sickness, leprosy and trachoma. Less than 1% of
the 1393 new drugs registered between 1975-1999 were for tropical
diseases. Drugs for some of the NTDs are safe, inexpensive (as low as
two US cents per tablet). They cause about 534,000 deaths annually,
according to the New England Journal of Medicine. It is estimated that a five-year program to control or eliminate the major neglected
tropical diseases in sub-Saharan Africa would cost  US$1
billion to $2 billion.

It’s hardly a novel idea, but isn’t something amiss when American dogs are being medicated for obesity and anxiety, and African children
cannot obtain medicines for easily treated diseases which cripple and
kill? If this is the case, isn’t it plausible that their owners are likely to make
choices which reflect these priorities when they vote on small-bore
bioethical issues like stem cell research? Perhaps that helps to
explain why California voters chose to spend US$3 billion over 10 years
on this ethically contentious endeavour even though most of the
beneficiaries will be elderly  — if it ever succeeds.