Leader: Pharmas reveal their eagerness to please

The drugs industry came under the spotlight again this week as the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry – the trade body for major drugs firms in the UK – issued its new code of practice.

It is the first major review since 1992, undertaken by the industry, of the way it communicates and conducts itself. It is also the latest in a series of recent moves by the drugs industry aimed at improving transparency: the most notable previous example being the queue of drugs firms lining up to voluntarily disclose the results of their clinical trials.

Among the ABPI's changes (see p1), the tightened code now 'requires companies to include prominent information about adverse event reporting mechanisms on all promotion material'. In other words, they must do more to disclose side-effects associated with a product. The new code, effective from 1 January 2006, also requires any involvement with 'patient advocacy groups' (such as health charities) to be made clear.

The review has been conducted against a background of heightened suspicion – deserved or not – of the pharmaceutical industry's behaviour. Drug safety scandals – such as over Vioxx and Seroxat – have invited the media to portray 'Big Pharma' as a pariah. So the tightened code serves primarily to give the appearance to government and a hostile press that the industry is treating its responsibilities with the utmost seriousness.

One intriguing facet of the new code requires that companies 'must only offer economy air travel to delegates sponsored to attend meetings' and that 'lavish venues must not be used'. This speaks of an industry increasingly anxious to project its image as behaving foremost in the interests of patient care, rather than its own interests – and to get government and the media off its back.

As such, the code revision can't come soon enough as the pharma industry seeks to repair its own reputation.

Daniel Rogers is on paternity leave. Daisy Rose Rogers (6lb 14 oz) was born on Tuesday.

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