Big pharma defends industry’s PR practices

Top executives at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and AstraZeneca (AZ) gave a robust defence of PR practices in the pharma sector last week as part of the seventh session of parliament’s inquiry on ‘The Influence of the Pharmaceutical Industry.’

‘PR is not always about sell, sell, sell,’ AZ executive V-P of product strategy, licensing and business development Dr John Patterson told MPs, pointing out how PR can help to promote proper use of products to ensure better patient safety.

Patterson, one of eight witnesses at Portcullis House, Westminster, last Thursday, said the pharma industry was facing a ‘period of dramatic change and desire for more openness’ and that the environment in which firms now operate had ‘completely’ changed in the past ‘two to three’ years.

‘Health has become a greater topic in the media than it was previously,’ said Patterson.

‘People are not well versed in talking about relative risk – explaining [risk-benefits of a drug] doesn’t always fit well with the 20-second soundbite on TV,’ he added.

GSK senior V-P and general manager Eddie Gray described the setting up of clinical trial registers as the industry’s ‘most obvious’ move towards greater transparency.

He said it was ‘disappointing’ that such moves have been ‘reported [by some] as a PR exercise’.

Other topics raised in the session included the promotion of drugs such as AZ’s Crestor and Iressa, GSK’s Seroxat and ‘ghost-writing’.

Direct-to-consumer advertising (neither firm’s reps were advocates) and the explosion in the provision of unregulated pharma information on the internet were also discussed.

At a subsequent session, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) president Vincent Lawton and director-general Dr Richard Barker stressed that they wanted to see moves to encourage greater implementation of National Institute for Clinical Excellence guidance.

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