VIDEO-#71 - Katherine Eban: Widespread fraud in the generic drug industry - Peter Attia

In this episode, Katherine Eban, investigative journalist and author of Bottle of Lies , illuminates the prevalence of fraud in generic drug manufacturing which brings into question the idea that generics are identical to brand-name drug as we are lead to believe. Katherine walks us through how this widespread corruption came to be, including the shocking story of one particularly egregious (and unfortunately not uncommon) example of an Indian drug company, Ranbaxy, whose business model was completely dependent on falsifying data in their drug applications to the FDA. We then discuss the subsequent investigation into Indian and Chinese drug manufacturing plants which revealed that nearly 80% of them are tainted with fraud. We conclude this discussion on a positive note with i) how individuals can investigate their own drugs to protect themselves ii) an innovative pharmacy attempting to disrupt the market and iii) some ideas on how to reform to the regulations around generic drugs, the FDA, and more.


We discuss:


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How Peter found Katherine’s book, and what convinced her to investigate the generic drug industry [5:45]

How did Peter come upon Katherine’s work?

Katherine’s book: Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom

Figure 1. Cover of Bottle of Lies by Katherine Eban. Image credit:

What got her into the topic of generic drug manufacturing?

What made Katherine think there was something to this situation that made her want to dig into it?

Branded vs. generic drugs: Why they aren’t the same thing [11:15] 

Analogy : Kleenex (brand) vs. facial tissue paper (generic)

* Misconception about generic drugs : Most people believe (because the FDA told them so) that generic drugs are identical to the brand name (just at a lower price point)

How to generics come to be?

-A generic is a version of a brand name drug that is made either after a brand name drug has

  1. gone off patent so it’s no longer legally protected, or
  2. if the generic company has successfully challenged the brand patent in court and then the FDA gives them permission to make a generic

But is it identical?  

Steps to making a generic (and why it can be different from the brand name) :

But wait…why do the generic companies have to reverse engineer the drugs? Don’t they get the blueprint once the patent expires?

{end of show notes preview}

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Katherine Eban

Katherine Eban, an investigative journalist, is a Fortune magazine contributor and Andrew Carnegie fellow. Her articles on pharmaceutical counterfeiting, gun trafficking, and coercive interrogations by the CIA, have won international attention and numerous awards. She has also written for Vanity Fair, the New York Times, Self, The Nation, the New York Observer and other publications. Her work has been featured on 60 Minutes, Nightline, NPR, and other national news programs. She lectures frequently on the topic of pharmaceutical integrity.

Her first book, Dangerous Doses: a True Story of Cops, Counterfeiters and the Contamination of America’s Drug Supply, was named one of the Best Books of 2005 by Kirkus Reviews and was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick. Her account of reporting on 9/11 was anthologized in At Ground Zero: 25 Stories From Young Reporters Who Were There. Her work has also been awarded grants from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Fund for Investigative Journalism, the Alicia Patterson Foundation and the McGraw Center for Business Journalism at CUNY’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. Educated at Brown University and Oxford, where she was a Rhodes Scholar, she lives in Brooklyn with her husband, two daughters and Newfoundland dog Romeo. []