An unleaked memo on sorry pharma and the silly season

Or should that be silly pharma…I don’t know.

Yes, our colleagues from pharma have stolen the march on everyone else and got the silly season off to a grand old start.

I am referring, of course, to the leaked memo from the European and American pharma trade associations dutifully covered by Ian Semple at The Guardian on Monday. The memo lays out a strategy for heading off the campaign for greater transparency in clinical trials data (as successfully spearheaded by AllTrials) which includes getting patient groups to front the pharma counter-offensive. Article here: http://m.guardian.co.uk/business/2013/jul/21/big-pharma-secret-drugs-trials

You know there are all sorts of things that occur to me when I read these sorts of reports. In no particular order:

  • It reads like the sort of technically brilliant but politically stupid thing I might have written as a lobbyist (yes, sadly, I was one of those) twenty years ago.
  • I seem to remember that the MP who I worked for even longer ago than that, refused to take any call or read any letter written by someone fronting-up a campaign or cause on behalf of another.  ‘If they can’t speak to me direct then…’ he would say. Perhaps if more legislators took that line today we would see a rapid change in the practices of our lobbying industry – way beyond that which a register or legislation is likely to achieve.
  • Back to pharma and patient groups. Some of the latter such as the National Voices umbrella group of charities and voluntary organisations have been quick off the mark to condemn the memo and its implication that they can be bought. Others have been less so. I hope those in the latter camp do come out soon and distance themselves.  Yet I fear some patient groups are simply becoming more conservative by the day and, at this very moment in time, are spinning round in a quandry as to what they should do, evaluating all the possible things that could go wrong for them depending on their decision.  A bit like ‘Scoop’ in ‘Bob the Builder.’ What’s that about moral compass I hear you say?
  • I didn’t used to think this but I can feel myself moving to a position where I believe there should be a ban on charities receiving pharma funding.  Failing thatimum, they should be legally required to declare all monies received and the purpose. Otherwise some day a charity – and form suggests it’s likely to be the good but misguided rather than the rampantly criminal – is going to come a real cropper.
  • The best thing that the UK’s own pharma trade association, the ABPI, could do is openly say the memo is not something it subscribes too. Or somehow let it be known that its silence is a signal of utter disdain.
  • It is ironic that a sector which has pilloried the European Union for the last ten years for making research harder to do, should suddenly find solace in its tendency for delay and obfuscation.

But the really, really silly thing is that anyone could seriously take a position that transparency is bad for research and bad for patients.

As I update this in the evening it is only right and proper to point out that the associations referred to in this blog – EFPIA and PhRMA – have today issued their proposed principles for Clinical Trial Data Sharing.  Lots of coded language in there I think you will find….

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