At a glance: Pharmas' 'unscrupulous' marketing under fire

What’s the industry supposed to have done? A report launched in Athens this week, called Branding The Cure, said there was a ‘shocking’ lack of transparency in drug companies’ marketing. It also accused pharma companies of encouraging what it called ‘irrational’ prescription or use of drugs through the misinforming of consumers.

Strong stuff. Who was behind these claims?
Consumers International (CI), the international federation that represents different countries’ consumer associations – such as Which? in the UK. It bills itself as ‘the global voice for consumers’. Its report concerned the top 20 pharma firms.

How has the industry responded?
As you would expect. ABPI head of media relations Richard Ley robustly denies the claim that UK drug firms are guilty of a lack of transparency, and says its code of practice is the ‘platinum standard’ for companies.

And the companies themselves?
CI director-general Richard Lloyd told PRWeek: ‘We offered every company the opportunity to comment on what we found and not one of them did.’ The report says that, of the 20, only Bristol-Myers Squibb provides its marketing code of conduct directly to consumers, and only Eli Lilly provides information on its policies towards patient organisations. Meanwhile, Orion Pharma was the only company to provide any information about the composition and allocation of its marketing budget.

Isn’t this a case of getting easy headlines at pharmas’ expense?
The headlines were certainly there, with outlets such as The Guardian, BBC and Reuters all running stories on CI’s report earlier this week. But CI says this report will not be a one-off, with Lloyd promising ‘ongoing’ research on these issues.

Is there a PR lesson to draw from this?
CI claims that the legitimacy of CSR as a concept is under threat because a lack of transparency around marketing will lead consumers to question companies’ motives. And it is not just drugs companies that are criticised: neither doctors nor regulators come out of it particularly well. The former are deemed to be ‘too cosy’ with the pharma industry, for example. Lloyd says he wants to hear from pharma companies to get their views.

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