Stephen Whitehead, ABPI – missing the point completely

I read this article in the New Statesman today and made me really quite annoyed…

It featured a letter written to the New Statesman by the CEO of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), Stephen Whitehead, as a response to issues Ben Goldacre’s new book, Bad Pharma.

It’s amazing just how stupid a response it is – in fact I have to ask if Stephen has actually bothered to read the book at all or if the’s just gone into classic big Pharma knee jerk mode (after all, Stephen did spend 10 years of his career working at Glaxo and Eli Lily).

But no matter, as the New Statesman has printed Ben’s reply to the response.

However the comment I really found strange from Stephen Whitehead was this “…references to companies (GSK, Lilly, Pfizer) being fined are all examples from the US and simply not relevant to the UK market…”

GSK’s fine was, to remind you, the largest healthcare fraud settlement in history at $3bn.

How it isn’t relevant to the UK is beyond me – because what we’re talking about here is not just illegal marketing of drugs – not just bribing doctors to prescribe GSK products – what we’re talking about here are dead people.

Patients died because they were taking drugs that weren’t safe, drugs that weren’t even approved for their treatment.

In the case of Avandia, the drug is so dangerous that it can no longer be prescribed in Europe – it had to be withdrawn from the market because of high levels of heart attack, heart failure and stroke in patients. It had to be withdrawn from the market because it killed too many people.

How’s that “simply not relevant” to patients in the UK, Stephen?

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Should we trust GlaxoSmithKline – and Andrew Witty…?

Trust GlaxoSmithKline?

Trust GSK? – you must be mad.

Sarah Boseley in The Guardian writes:

“The British drugs company GlaxoSmithKline is to open up the detailed data from its clinical trials to the scrutiny of scientists in a bid to help the discovery of new medicines and end the suspicions of critics that it has secrets to hide.

In a speech today [11 Oct] to the Wellcome Trust in London, the chief executive, Andrew Witty, will say openness to the public and active collaboration with scientists and firms outside GSK are essential to finding new drugs to treat the diseases plaguing the world, from novel antibiotics to cures for malaria and tuberculosis.

He told the Guardian GSK had already done much to advance transparency in clinical research, including publishing a summary of every drug trial – whether a success or not – on its website

Said Sir Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust – “In its commitment towards more openness and collaboration, GSK is setting an example of how the pharmaceutical industry must adapt to help drive forward medical advances. Real breakthroughs do not come out of nowhere, but are borne of scientists sharing their knowledge and learning from each other. GSK’s moves are bold and innovative, a very positive sign of its commitment to tackle some of the greatest health challenges facing the world today.”

But hold on a minute – Dr Ben Goldacre’s not sure about GSK :

“But we should judge drug companies by their actions, not by their promises, especially when similar promises have been made in the past, and then broken.

In 1998 GlaxoWellcome promised to set up a clinical trials register, amidst outcry over withheld trial results. But when the company merged with SKB to create GSK, in 2002, this register was unceremonially deleted from the internet. This tragic story is described in an excellent open access article on this history of attempts to get access to hidden data, by Iain Chalmers.

Then, in 2003, GSK were caught withholding clinical trial data showing that their drug seroxat increases the risk of suicide in young people. As part of the settlement on fraud charges, in the US in 2004, GSK were forced to promise to post all trial results on a public website. But in 2012 GSK paid a new $3bn fine for criminal and civil fraud: this included charges over withholding data on the diabetes drug Avandia, as late as 2007, well after this earlier promise of transparency was made”.

That’s a pretty poor record, I’m sure you’ll agree.

As far as GSK is concerned, talk is cheap and promises are routinely broken with no compunction whatsoever.

 

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