Down on Big Pharma?  You are not alone.  Whether or not you actually believe that these companies are suppressing a cure for diabetes in order to stay in business, you probably have some (well-founded) suspicions about ethics in medical practice.

So you might be as intrigued as I was to discover the existence of PharmedOut, an independent,Pharmedout publicly-funded (!) project (hat tip: Pharma Gossip) that “empowers physicians to identify and counter inappropriate pharmaceutical promotion practices.”

What this means in regular English is that physicians and other medical professionals are under constant pressure to continue their education through what is called “CME,” or Continuing Medical Education Credits.  Realizing this, the drug companies have built an extensive empire on offering these classes directly to doctors, often including travel, giveaways, fancy dinners and other perks.  As you might imagine, the content of these courses was typically bent toward the products of the sponsor, a practice which has created some juicy scandals and widespread outcry of late.

PharmedOut is an organization run “by physicians for physicians” to offset this problem.  It’s goal is to “disseminate information about how pharmaceutical companies influence what they prescribe, to increase access to unbiased information about drugs, and to encourage physicians to choose pharma-free CME.”

The Washington Post covered it recently, saying:

“PharmedOut is one of about two dozen projects across the country designed to teach doctors and nurses to critically evaluate information about drugs and to direct them to unbiased information. The projects are funded by a $21 million grant through the Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Grant Program, which was created as part of a 2004 settlement by Warner-Lambert involving the drugmaker’s illegal promotion of the widely used epilepsy drug Neurontin.”

“The second phase of the program, which is being administered by the Center for Evidence-Based Policy at the Oregon Health & Science University, will provide similar educational programs targeted at consumers.”  (Now that I would like to see!)

Meanwhile, Big Pharma’s reputation remains in the gutter, according to a new PricewaterhouseCoopers
report called Recapturing the Vision.  Based on a survey of 500 consumers and 150 members of US
industry stakeholder groups (doctors, researchers, former health policy makers and biotech executives, etc.), a huge disconnect exists between the public’s view of pharmaceutical companies and the industry’s self perception.

Referring to the report, Peter Claude, a USA-based PricewaterhouseCoopers partner, said: “It is difficult to comprehend how an industry that has saved so many lives should be held in such low public esteem.”

He also noted that “in the current climate of distrust, the public is questioning the industry’s motives and practices from sales and marketing to pricing to drug development.”

Other quotables on the subject:

Peter Claude again, speaking to PharmaTimes WorldNews: “‘No-one is listening to them (the drugmakers) and no-one wants to listen to them,’ … which means that the industry has to change the dynamic of its communication, especially at a time when the sector is under such pressure from governments and a fairly hostile media.”

Stephen Willis, a family physician and associate dean of the small, 270-student medical school of East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.: “I’m ethically opposed to commercial support of CMEs.  I just deal with too many people who have to choose between heat in the wintertime or paying for drugs.”

He adds: “Most taxpayers have no idea that they could pay less for their drugs if the pharmaceutical companies took the couple of billion dollars they spent subsidizing CME and used it to reduce the cost of drugs.”  Oy vey!


8 Responses

  1. Scott
    Scott January 30, 2007 at 9:05 am | | Reply

    Nice article, and thanks for advising me about PharmedOut (lots of great stats there) … you might want to catch my post from yesterday on why nonprofits like JDRF are stepping into the drug development arena!

  2. joan
    joan January 30, 2007 at 9:19 am | | Reply

    Many years ago I worked for primary care physicians. Several times a week, drug representatives would provide lunch for us. Interestingly, those reps pushing cholesterol drugs would bring lasagna or pizza and those pushing diabetic drugs would bring make-your-own sundaes. I used to call these events “job security lunches” (for the reps).

  3. Jennifer
    Jennifer January 30, 2007 at 1:15 pm | | Reply

    I distinctly remember, as a pharmacy technician, going to several “dinner meetings” sponsored by Astra Zenica where we would be at a steakhouse drinking red wine, eating porterhouses and butter fried prawns while talking so casually about the benefits of statins.

    Then we’d all have the cheesecake.

  4. Rachel
    Rachel January 30, 2007 at 5:50 pm | | Reply

    Not too long ago, in another life, I provided administrative support for a commercially-based CME program (among other job duties at a particular medical manufacturer. It showed me things I wish I hadn’t seen with regards to money being thrown around, especially now as a patient with chronic illnesses having to deal with health insurance.

    I enjoyed the work I did, but I decided that setting wasn’t for me. If I could find a non-commercial entity for which to work in the same capacity, I’d jump at it.

  5. Steve
    Steve January 30, 2007 at 9:59 pm | | Reply

    One big thing that I’m very suspicious about is the ability to implant cells in a pancreas and grow a new one. Hell, we’ve been hearing about this since the 70′s. So much progress has been made in other areas, but helllooooo! We’re still waiting! Yet, every couple of years, there’s some new “breakthrough” that promises this is just around the corner. Ok, then, where the hell is it? Is it possible that research in this area is short circuited by big pharma because it’s much more profitable to sell us the drugs? I often wonder….

  6. adam
    adam January 31, 2007 at 6:33 am | | Reply

    Dr. Willis’s idea sounds rational to me: that the cost of CME (advanced training for physicians) ought be borne by physicians and not by drug vendors.

  7. adam
    adam January 31, 2007 at 6:33 am | | Reply

  8. Florian
    Florian February 1, 2007 at 4:57 am | | Reply

    I don’t understand why people expect a cure for diabetes to come from big pharma. Research and development at big pharma is done only to find new drugs for “treating” not “curing” disease. A cure for diabetes will come someday from an academic research laboratory. A lab that is funded by NIH, ADA, JDRF, or some other private non-profit institution. They should be supported.
    Florian (Type 1, dx 1967)

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