Pharmaceutical industry-regulator relations

What’s the issue? Communications teams at pharma firms and within pharma trade associations have their work cut out to counter challenges to the reputation of the industry. The Guardian reported on Monday that Pfizer received advice in 1989 from an expert on the Committee on the Safety of Medicines about the way to gain approval for its anti-depressant drug sertraline (branded as Lustral).

So what?

The expert, Dr Stuart Montgomery, denies there was any conflict of interest, but mental health group Mind wants an external inquiry into the relationships between regulators and pharma companies.

What do the regulators say?

Kent Woods, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said it deplored the idea of experts offering advice to pharma companies. Pfizer was unavailable to comment as PRWeek went to press.

So the MHRA is communicating this position strongly?

Yes, but it has other PR issues to deal with. The Guardian also suggests the body has been a little too cosy with the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI). The paper says the pharma industry privately drew up a blueprint of how the MHRA should be run.

What does the ABPI say?

It thinks a lot is being made out of not very much. An ABPI spokesman says: ‘Government has encouraged us to work closely in partnership with the regulatory body and we will continue to do so.’

And how does the MHRA respond?

Robustly. It says: ‘We are trying to meet the needs of industry, but patients as well.’

So a new PR push is required by MHRA?

It says communications about its role will be ongoing. Media enquiries to the MHRA are currently handled from within the Department of Health press office, but a dedicated PR team is being set up (PRWeek, 16 July).

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