Brown Bag Lecture: “Sciences of the Similar: A History of ‘Me-Too’ Medicines”

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Date: October 7, 2014
Time: 12:00 to 1:00 p.m.

315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Event Type: Open to the Public
Fee: Free
RSVP Online: No Registration Required

A talk by Jeremy Greene

When in 2011 the new agent pitivastatin was launched as the eighth “statin” drug on the American market, it was derided by many in the medical press as just another “me-too” drug. Why did the world need another, more expensive statin, critics asked, when so many other similar drugs were already generically available? This complaint is familiar: by the early 21st century the me-too drug had become a stock character in critiques of the increasingly trivial innovation of the pharmaceutical sector. Greene’s talk will narrate the origins and development of the me-too drug from the early 1960s to the early 21st century as an inverted history of biomedical innovation. In a biomedical marketplace that values innovation, the me-too drug represented a form of minor fraud: a new product that claimed to be a significant innovation but in practice was only trivially different from its competitors. In the American context, public and professional critique of me-too drugs first became visible in a series of congressional inquiries into the pharmaceutical industry under the Democratic Senators Estes Kefauver and Gaylord Nelson in the 1960s and 1970s. But the me-too drug had its defenders as well, from industry, the medical profession, and even consumer groups. Using manuscripts from institutional and personal archives, government documents, and readings from professional, policy, popular, and trade literatures, Greene traces the history of the me-too drug as a litmus test for distinguishing significant from trivial innovation in the biomedical field.

Jeremy A. Greene, MD, PhD, is an associate professor of medicine and of the history of medicine and holds the Elizabeth A. Treide and A. McGehee Harvey Chair in the History of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. His most recent book, Generic: The Unbranding of Modern Medicines, has just been released by Johns Hopkins University Press. Greene’s first book, Prescribing by Numbers: Drugs and the Definition of Disease, was awarded the Rachel Carson Prize by the Society for the Social Studies of Science and the Edward Kremers Prize by the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy. He received an MD and a PhD in the history of science from Harvard University in 2005. Greene is board certified in internal medicine and a member of the American College of Physicians, and he continues to practice primary care medicine in a community health center in East Baltimore.

About Brown Bag Lectures

Brown Bag Lectures (BBLs) are a series of weekly informal talks on the history of chemistry or related subjects, including the history and social studies of science, technology, and medicine. Based on original research (sometimes still in progress), these talks are given by local scholars for an audience of CHF staff and fellows and interested members of the public.

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