Feature Working with the Drug Industry

How a marriage with big pharma ended in divorce

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f6062 (Published 08 October 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f6062

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  1. Sophie Arie, freelance journalist
  1. 1London, UK
  1. sophiearie{at}fmail.co.uk

The abrupt termination last week of an umbrella group of leading drug companies, royal medical colleges, and leading health organisations comes as no surprise to critics of the body’s pro-pharma statements. Sophie Arie investigates

In March 2012 a group of 19 of Britain’s leading pharmaceutical and healthcare bodies1 published two documents that were meant to provide definitive guidance on the interaction between doctors and drug companies and transparency in clinical trials.

The short, pamphlet style documents—Guidance on Collaboration between Healthcare Professionals and the Pharmaceutical Industry and Clinical Trial Transparency: Principles and Facts—were the first publications from the Ethical Standards in Health and Life Sciences Group (ESHLSG), formed in 2011 to advance collaboration between healthcare professionals and industry for the benefit of patients. Health ministries and other interested parties outside the group also gave their stamp of approval.

“There are many real benefits to be gained by working together in an open and transparent manner, and this new set of guidelines are an excellent start,” said Richard Thompson, co-chair of the ESHLSG at the time and president of the Royal College of Physicians. “I urge all health professionals to embrace them.”

There was only one problem. The guidelines contained statements that critics said were clearly pro-pharma and highly controversial.

A news report in the BMJ triggered a flurry of criticism,2 and in February 2013 several concerned activist groups launched the Bad Guidelines campaign (http://badguidelines.org), calling for the documents to be withdrawn. The campaigners highlighted statements in the collaboration guidelines that they thought were “demonstrably wrong” such as “Industry plays a valid and important role in the provision of medical education” and that drug company representatives “can be a useful resource for healthcare professionals.” Many people believe that contact with drug representatives and industry sponsored education are forms …

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