Intended for healthcare professionals


Relationships with the drug industry: Focus on better information

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 04 February 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b252
  1. Richard Tiner, medical director
  1. 1Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, London SW1A 2DY
  1. rtiner{at}

    The relationship between the drug industry, academia, healthcare professionals, and patients has reached an all time low and few doubt that it is in the interests of all parties to improve it. A recent report from the Royal College of Physicians attempts to define a path towards achieving a more productive relationship. Here we set out five contrasting views on what the ideal relationship between industry and prescribers and patients should be and what steps need to be taken to achieve it (doi:10.1136/bmj.b222, doi:10.1136/bmj.b211, doi:10.1136/bmj.b252, doi:10.1136/bmj.b232)

    The primary role of the research based drug industry is to discover, develop, license, and market innovative medicines to prevent, treat, or cure disease. This role has a prime benefit for patients but also helps prescribers in their role of managing disease. The UK industry is committed to a stable and pragmatic partnership with the government and the NHS on medicines—one that enshrines value for money, reward for innovation, and ensures greater availability of new medicines to patients. This should lead to the industry being seen as a trusted partner in the provision of health care by both prescribers and patients.

    Information for prescribers

    The industry believes it has a legitimate right to provide information about the benefits of its medicines to prescribers. In the UK, the way in which this is done is regulated by the Medicines Act through the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry’s (ABPI) code of practice.1 Drug companies provide information in various ways including publishing in peer reviewed journals and the summary of product characteristics, which is readily available online.2 Of course advertising and sales representatives have an important role but this is robustly controlled by regulation and self regulation.

    Many surveys have shown that the public trust their healthcare professionals as the key providers of information, and so it is important that prescribers understand the role of industry in the provision of health care. Also the industry develops a considerable amount of information about disease and its treatments that healthcare professionals can give to patients.

    Meeting patients’ needs

    Increasingly, patients are seeking more information about health related matters, including medicines. All medicines have to come with a patient information leaflet, which legally has to contain certain information,3 but there is scope for them to be more patient friendly. The MHRA is working with the ABPI to improve the patient information leaflet by including, for example, a summary box giving the main benefits and risks of the medicine, better definition of the risk of side effects, and website addresses for patient organisations.

    About 20% of calls to company medical information departments are from the general public inquiring about particular medicines. Currently, the information that can be given is quite limited and industry will be working with the MHRA to broaden this. Another source of information for patients with chronic conditions is patient organisations. Many of these work with relevant companies to develop user friendly information about the disease and possible treatments. All funding for patient organisations from companies has to be publicly declared in order to make the relationship transparent.

    Another important source of patient information, the medicine guides available on the NHS Choices website,4 provides a good example of the potential of collaboration. The guides are written by medicines information pharmacists based on the summary of product characteristics. Although the guides are funded by industry, they have been developed through the Medicines Information Project Board, which includes representatives from the MHRA, ABPI, patient organisations, Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Royal College of General Practitioners, and Royal College of Nursing.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b252


    • Competing interests: RT is an industry observer on the Commission for Human Medicine expert patient advisory group.

    • Provenance and peer review: Commissioned, not externally peer reviewed.


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