Drug trial firms urged to improve crisis planning

Pharma PROs have advised contract research organisations to learn lessons from last week’s drug trial disaster and to do more to ensure their crisis comms strategies are well co-ordinated.

Six men were left fighting for their lives at London's Northwick Park Hospital after the trial of an anti-inflammatory drug went
badly wrong.

TeGenero, the German developer of the drug – TGN1412 – has turned to Kissman Langford in the UK and Klenk & Hoursch in
Germany for crisis comms advice.

Parexel, which was running the trial, told PRWeek it had been using a PR agency with 'UK resources' but would not reveal the agency's identity nor explain what it had been doing. It has been criticised for its slow response to the heavy media coverage following the trial.

The firm told PRWeek that a UK media contact had been available as soon as the story broke last Monday (13 March). However, PRWeek's own calls to the US-based testing company first directed them to its investor relations practitioners in America, only issuing a UK media contact number on the Wednesday.

It has also been criticised for sticking to a statement denying any culpability, which many believe could be seen as unsympathetic to the victims' plight.

TeGenero, on the other hand, apologised to the trial volunteers' families and issued a statement saying it was 'devastated'.

APCO director of strategic communications (healthcare) Mark Cater commented: 'The trial was run by a third party, the type of organisation that has probably never had to deal with external audiences before, apart from investor relations. [Parexel] did not anticipate the need for crisis management, and there was some confusion about what and how to communicate, and who was responsible for the message.'

De Facto Communications chief executive Richard Anderson said: 'Phase-I studies are particularly risky from a communications and reputation point of view: they are the first time the drug is tested on a person, and not all outcomes from these are predictable.'

Clew Communications managing director Chris Mihill said: 'The light has been shone on contract research organisations, which were previously unknown outside the pharma world.

'They will need to be much more open from now on. Perhaps they should organise an open day for journalists to make their procedures clear,' he added.

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