Group calls for more to be done to tackle corruption in the pharmaceutical industry

BMJ 2016; 353 doi: (Published 02 June 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;353:i3099
  1. Ingrid Torjesen
  1. London

Corruption is rife in the global pharmaceutical sector and governments need to do more to tackle it, a report from Transparency International, a global anti-corruption action group, has said.1

As of the beginning of 2016, one in 10 corruption investigations in the US has involved pharmaceutical companies, the report said—which is far higher than the number of cases that involve the banking sector.

The report also showed that nearly half of corruption cases investigated in the health sector related to sales and marketing; that good manufacturing practice standards were vulnerable to bribery and corruption because of a lack of enforced regulation; that many countries had few safeguards to prevent vital medicines disappearing during the distribution process; and that raw data from research by pharmaceutical companies were publicly available in only a few countries.

Sophie Peresson, director of the Pharmaceuticals and Healthcare Programme at Transparency International, said that the effects of corruption in the pharmaceutical sector “can literally be a matter of life and death.”

“Where one individual gains from creaming off the top, hundreds more can be deprived from the most basic healthcare, often in the poorest parts of the world,” she said. “Governments and pharma companies must recognise their responsibility in fighting corruption and stop turning a blind eye.”

The report said that global institutions, governments, and companies were not committed to preventing corruption. A lack of data and understanding of corruption in the pharmaceutical sector meant that policy makers were not viewing it as a serious enough issue. This was compounded by weak national and international regulatory frameworks that suffered from a lack of investment and were often reliant on self regulation, the report said.

Pharmaceutical companies’ high degree of autonomy and extensive financial resources meant that they had the potential to influence policy and regulation in order to maximise their profits—even if that was to the detriment of health outcomes and public health objectives, the report added.

To address corruption vulnerabilities in the sector strong leadership was needed, particularly from governments, the report said. “They must show strong commitment to anti-corruption efforts, including a stance of no impunity for all corrupt actors.”

Better use of technology was needed to reduce opportunities for corruption and governments should put in place processes to track the activities of pharmaceutical companies, make sure that all regulation and legislation was actively enforced, that corrupt companies were investigated and punished, and consider raising fines.

Governments should also implement processes to provide “civil society organisations with access to data so they are able to act as watchdogs,” the report said, and “professional and academic institutions must apply appropriate sanctions against corrupt healthcare professionals and researchers.”

A statement from the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) said, “The report was right to highlight the role of the industry in driving change but completely failed to mention a host of industry led initiatives on financial transparency, in the fight against falsified medicines, on data sharing, and the adoption of new technologies to measure patient outcomes. These were all topic areas covered in the report but perhaps articulating these positive steps was not in keeping with the report’s aims and objectives.”

The group said that one change it made in 2013 was to implement principles on responsible sharing of clinical trial data which went beyond the European Union’s clinical trial regulation and the European Medicines Agency’s new transparency policies and included the sharing of patient level data with independent research organisations.


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