Marketing versus evidence-based medicine
The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry has issued a new guideline1 to promote collaboration with doctors. It urges health-care professionals not to be “tempted to accept the negative myths about cooperating with industry”. Endorsed by many, including the British Medical Association, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, and the Department of Health, among other major UK bodies, The Lancet's logo was used to support claims that “Industry plays a valid and important role in the provision of medical education” and that “Medical representatives can be a useful resource for healthcare professionals”.1
Such assertions contradict the evidence.2, 3 Worse than believing that sales representatives or medical education can have an unbiased and valid role, The Lancet has ignored the effect of drug promotion in the new social media which is now the freeway for marketing.4
Acknowledging the importance of the pharmaceutical industry is not an excuse for spreading positive myths. If all companies had a core ethic to avoid harming patients, why would GlaxoSmithKline have recently agreed to pay US$3 billion to settle civil and criminal investigations into its sales practices for numerous drugs, the fourth such case since April, 2008, and surpassing Pfizer's earlier record of $2·3 billion in 2009?5
Why did The Lancet endorse this guidance? Was it a considered matter of “supping with the devil with a long spoon” or a concern about losing advertising and reprint revenue?
SB is a committee member of Healthwatch, a charity “for treatments that work”. PM's organisation Healthy Skepticism aims to improve health by reducing harm from misleading health information. The other authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.
1 Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. Guidance on collaboration between healthcare professionals and the pharmaceutical industry. http://www.abpi.org.uk/our-work/library/guidelines/Pages/collaboration-guidance.aspx. (accessed April 14, 2012).
2 Steinman MA, Landefeld CS, Baron RB. Industry support of CME-are we at the tipping point?. N Engl J Med 2012; 366: 1069-1071. CrossRef | PubMed
3 Fugh-Berman A, Ahari S. Following the script: how drug reps make friends and influence doctors. PLoS Med 2007; 4: e150. CrossRef | PubMed
4 Greene JA, Kesselheim AS. Pharmaceutical marketing and the new social media. N Engl J Med 2010; 363: 2087-2089. CrossRef | PubMed
5 Braillon A. Drug industry is now biggest defrauder of US government. BMJ 2012; 344: d8219. CrossRef | PubMed