Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Big Pharma and patient groups - "covert and distasteful" tactics

Britain's chief drug regulator has accused Big Pharma of covert and distasteful tactics in funding patient groups that campaign for wider use of the medicines they manufacture.

Sir Michael Rawlins, chairman of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), which decides which drugs are provided by the NHS, warned that the industry’s sponsorship of health charities could lead to excessive pressure and unfair rulings about which medicines were made available.

“It is important everybody is aware that a particular patient organisation gets money from the pharmaceutical industry and that is not easy to find out at the moment,” Rawlins said. “The patient group may not just receive money: the pharmaceutical company may be providing help and resources, such as the use of their PR manager.”

Rawlins added: “In the long term it will do the patient organisations an immense amount of damage and the confidence in their neutrality will dissipate. . . It certainly is distasteful.”

Nice has recently come under pressure from some cancer and dementia charities to make new drugs for these illnesses available on the NHS.

The Alzheimer’s Society has led a patient campaign against a Nice ruling that the dementia drugs Aricept, Reminyl and Exelon were not cost-effective and should not be paid for from public funds.

New figures from the charities show that in the last financial year the Alzheimer’s Society received £31,000 from Pfizer and Eisai, which make Aricept. In the last year the society also received £13,000 from Shire Pharmaceuticals, manufacturer of Reminyl, and £14,000 from Novartis, manufacturer of Exelon.

Nice came under pressure this year from cancer charities to extend provision of the breast cancer “wonderdrug” Herceptin to women with the disease in its early stage.

One of the most vocal charities, Cancerbackup, received £29,000 from Roche, which makes Herceptin.

More at The Times

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