AT A GLANCE: Pharma ups comms after OFT brickbats

Hasn’t the Office of Fair Trading just criticised the pharma industry?
Yes, it suggested last week that the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme (PPRS) – which caps the profits of drug companies on brands they sell to the NHS – needs to be reviewed. It said the NHS is being charged half a billion pounds too much for branded medicines.

Half a billion? That sounds a lot...
It does, so the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) – speaking for the pharmaceutical industry – pulled out all the stops in comms terms. Ben Hayes, recently departed ABPI director of public affairs, was instrumental in putting together its response, along with Richard Ley, head of media relations, and Allison Bartlett, head of government affairs. The ABPI is also being advised by Fishburn Hedges.

How did the ABPI media campaign rebut the OFT report?
The team did not get a sneak look at the report, so had to do a bit of ‘pre-buttal’ beforehand. It called a press briefing to go through what it thought the OFT might suggest.

And what evidence did it use to make its case?
It produced figures saying that, for example, NHS drug prices are 21 per cent lower in real terms than ten years ago and that advances in medicines – paid for, of course, by pharma companies’ R&D – have helped free up nearly £11bn of hospital resources by halving admissions for major illnesses.

When did the OFT report come out?
The day after that briefing. In the morning, ABPI director-general Richard Barker and commercial director David Fisher went on a broadcast charm offensive that included BBC Radio 4’s Today, BBC Breakfast and Radio Five Live. Their main ‘value for money’ messages were that pharma brings £7.5bn a year to the UK economy and patients should have rapid access to modern medicines.

What comes next?
The Government, in the twin form of the Department for Trade and Industry and Department of Health, has 120 days to respond to the OFT report, so expect the ABPI to mount another comms blitz some time in June. Its approach until then will be more public affairs than media relations as it works to put the industry’s case to MPs and officials.

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