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A hot flush for Big Pharma

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 14 August 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:400
  1. Jocalyn Clark, editorial registrar (
  1. BMJ

    How HRT studies have got drug firms rallying the troops

    So the headlines have dealt another blow to the image of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Will the drug companies be able to revive the fortunes of one of their most lucrative products? Will the big guns of the pharmaceutical industry be blazing, eager to counteract the latest volley of bad publicity? Or will the industry construct its defences more subtly?

    Certainly, if the history of HRT promotion is anything to go by, the pharmaceutical public relations machine will be doing all it can to limit the fallout from studies published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine (2003;349: 523-34) Lancet (2003;362: 419-27), just as it has been since the first damning results from long term HRT studies were released last year. After all, billions in global sales are at stake. The two latest studies confirm that postmenopausal women taking combined HRT have an increased risk of heart disease and a twofold greater chance of developing breast cancer. These support the negative findings released in July 2002 after the huge US Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study was prematurely halted by its safety monitoring board.

    But what exactly can the PR machine do in the face of evidence that now says long term HRT use increases women's risk of blood clots, strokes, heart attacks, …

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