Gore flames drug makers, but fire fails to catch with public, media

TALLAHASSEE: In an attempt to more resolutely cast himself as an opponent of big business and spur support for his Medicare prescription drug plan, Al Gore intensified his healthcare crusade last week by criticizing pharmaceutical giants Schering-Plough and Wyeth-Ayerst.

TALLAHASSEE: In an attempt to more resolutely cast himself as an opponent of big business and spur support for his Medicare prescription drug plan, Al Gore intensified his healthcare crusade last week by criticizing pharmaceutical giants Schering-Plough and Wyeth-Ayerst.

TALLAHASSEE: In an attempt to more resolutely cast himself as an opponent of big business and spur support for his Medicare prescription drug plan, Al Gore intensified his healthcare crusade last week by criticizing pharmaceutical giants Schering-Plough and Wyeth-Ayerst.

In a speech to the elderly, Gore criticized Schering-Plough for spending more money on ads than on research. He also condemned Wyeth-Ayerst parent American Home Products for charging pharmacists more than veterinarians for the arthritis drug Lodine, which is prescribed for both people and pets.

'I'm all for them making profits and having more research and whatnot,' Gore said. 'But I'm not going to stand by if they behave in an unfair way.'

Schering-Plough spokesperson William O'Donnell sidestepped the Veep's attacks with a carefully worded statement. A Wyeth-Ayerst spokesperson declined comment, deferring to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a powerful lobbying group.

PhRMA spokesperson Jeff Trewhitt promptly dismissed Gore's statements as political posturing. 'We're getting close to November 7,' he said.

'It's an intense political campaign resulting in intense political rhetoric.'

Gore's attacks have refocused attention on the pharmaceutical industry, which last weathered a barrage from politicians and the media when Clinton attempted to nationalize healthcare in the early 1990s. However, the public and media were largely indifferent to Gore's recent comments.

O'Donnell said that only two media outlets called the company for comment after Gore's attacks. Trewhitt added that the media remains unreceptive to PhRMA's message that it, like Gore, supports expanded drug coverage under the Medicare program.

Porter Novelli healthcare director Michael Durand said that Schering-Plough and Wyeth-Ayerst were wise not to overreact to Gore's statements, and that pharmaceutical companies in general need to do a better job in communicating about the drug-development process.

'Companies don't need to respond directly to specific criticism,' he explained. 'What they must do is educate the American public about the rationale behind the tremendous investments that companies make in research and the tremendous risks they take whenever they develop a new drug.'



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