Letters Drug company suspension

UK response to serial drug company misdemeanour—no action, no shame

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i4022 (Published 26 July 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i4022
  1. Alain Braillon, senior consultant,
  2. John H Noble Jr, emeritus professor, SUNY/Buffalo,
  3. Susan Bewley, professor of women’s health
  1. 1University Hospital, 80000 Amiens, France
  2. 2Georgetown, TX 78633, USA
  3. 3Women’s Health Academic Centre, King’s College, London, UK
  1. braillon.alain{at}gmail.com

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) has suspended Astellas for inviting more than 100 clinicians to a sham “educational event” meeting in Milan. How is Astellas’s recidivist record ignored by so many professionals who continue to take up invitations? Why this relative inertia of the UK government?

Astellas has deep pockets and wide influence. In 2011 Astellas unsuccessfully sued the independent bulletin Prescrire, which had determined that the benefit/harm ratio for its tacrolimus based ointment was unfavourable and criticised regulatory authorities for extending the drug’s licence to include “maintenance treatment” to prevent flare-ups of atopic dermatitis. In the US in 2014, Astellas paid $7.3m [£5.6m; €6.6m] to resolve False Claims Act allegations relating to the marketing of Mycamine to children, followed by $67m relating to Tarceva in 2016.

The UK’s puny response can be compared to the US government dealing with the Novartis case. The APBI’s attempts to present itself as responsible are inadequate: it continues to argue 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”—despite evidence to the contrary. The public health “responsibility deal” shows that industries always put their vested interest first. Doctors accepting “free” gifts, meals, or tours may be judged by the company they keep.



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