Tuesday Tonic: Bashing Big Pharma

{Tonic: (noun) something with an invigorating effect}

Unless you’ve been living in seclusion in a cave somewhere in the Himalayas for the past few months, it would be pretty difficult to miss all the Big Pharma Bashing that’s been going on in the media recently.

From Ben Goldacre to the BMJ, it seems like everyone has jumped on the Big Pharma bashing bandwagon.

Yes, there is a need for transparency. Yes, there is a need for honesty around trial data. I don’t think anyone can deny that.

But what about all the good stuff? Big Pharma today isn’t just about the drugs anymore. It’s not enough. New Clinical Commissioning Groups want more than just a drug. They want value for money and assurances that the drug they’re being ask to include on their formularies does more than simply alleviate symptoms. So in response, there’s funding for nurses, educational materials, CPD programmes, apps to help patients track their symptoms, websites and online resources for patients and carers….the list goes on.

Ah, but all these extra resources are part of the problem I hear you cry. How can doctors make honest prescribing decisions when they’re influenced by all the extra razzamatazz?

Let me ask you this: Do we hold the intelligence of doctors in such low regard that we think they’ll overlook hard clinical facts? Do we think they are really so easily swayed by some pretty pictures in a glossy brochure?

Never, in 12 years, have I ever worked on a project that stretched, bended or distorted the ABPI Code of Conduct. Projects are always scrutinised, from every angle, to ensure they provide a balanced view and do not bring the industry into disrepute. Every word is carefully chosen and if it can’t be substantiated by trial data, it’s removed. Data on file is swiftly becoming a thing of the past and robust, double-blind clinical trials are the norm (as it should be of course).

Sure, I’ve sat in meetings where there’s been very little, if no talk of patients. Plenty of talk about market expansion and widening the pool of customers, changing prescribing behaviours and finding new ways to convince doctors that this drug is the dogs wotsits. But there are pharma companies out there that try to put patients at the heart of their business. That strive to improve the lives of the patients their drugs are designed for.

And really, if Big Pharma doesn’t fund the education programmes, the conferences, the extra nurses, the patient support materials, the adherence programmes, who will?

The NHS can’t afford to, that’s for sure.

What say you: Are you on the Big Pharma Bashing bandwagon? Or do you believe that without Big Pharma the NHS will fail to thrive? Can Big Pharma invigorate the NHS?

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