Having taken some heavy hits in the past year, is Big Pharma taking a page from the Pentagon’s playbook?
Internet “super-villain”/bad pharma “poster boy” Martin Shkreli dubbed “most hated man in America.” Patients, doctors, public livid over skyrocketing prescription drug prices. Investors ticked off by tumbling biopharma stocks. At this point, is Big Pharma simply hoping headlines like these will be all too much for us to digest? That Americans are being so heavily bombarded with bad news about pharmaceuticals that we will simply tune out?
Now comes news out of the UK that scientists on a panel charged with procuring drugs for the Department of Health are also being paid by pharma companies for consulting work, according to the British daily Telegraph.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because conflicts of interest of this type are common stateside. Actually, they’re worse here, because they involve paid consultants testing (not simply procuring) drugs. My Deadly Prescription blog has focused on several cases where there has been not only the appearance of impropriety but actual impropriety.
In 2015, Valeant Pharmaceuticals’ stock price took a major hit when a Wall Street analyst questioned the legality of its relationship to a specialty pharmacy. Valeant eventually admitted that the pharmacy, a subsidiary of the Canada-based pharma giant, had engaged in prohibited billing practices. Valeant jettisoned the pharmacy which soon went out of business.
Also last year, Sprout Pharmaceuticals, which owned the patent on the dubious female-libido enhancer flibanserin, was widely accused of propping up a “women’s movement” which petitioned the FDA to approve the drug. Reports questioned, among other things, who paid the airplane fares for hundreds of women who packed the final hearing of the FDA’s advisory panel. The panel did recommend approval and the FDA followed their advice. The drug is now available under the brand name Addyi.
The Telegraph’s own investigation found that fully a third of their procurement panel also worked for the drug companies as consultants. The pound, it seems, can be just as persuasive as the dollar. The corroding threads running through all of these stories, domestic and international, are greed, indeed, and worse yet, the intentional disregard of harm to patients. The financial gains of the consultants and their employers are ill-gotten twice over.
Crimes born of corporate deception is one of the themes of my novel DEADLY PRESCRIPTION. Life indeed mirrors fiction, and vice versa, especially when you watch the FBI apprehending a pharmaceutical CEO on the evening news!
It’s easy to see how, in the U.S., conflicts of interest among scientists reporting to the FDA while getting paid by pharmaceutical corporations can get lost amidst news of 5,000% price hikes, the end of the investment banker-pharma honeymoon on Wall Street, and the arrest of a former drug industry wunderkind. Considering the serious implications of the testing-consulting conflicts, you can’t help but wonder if some of the louder headlines are actually by Big Pharma design.
Are we supposed to be so shocked and awed that we simply ignore it all? It has been said that people choose to avoid things they fear—evil being one of those fears.
Whether this is fact or fiction, history shows that people have in fact ignored the ugly truth of things like the holocaust, Hiroshima, and other atrocities so unbelievable that they are seen by some as impossible to have happened.
Adolph Hitler once said, “By the skillful and sustained use of propaganda, one can make a people see even heaven as hell or an extremely wretched life as paradise.” It is known, by individuals who would take advantage of this knowledge, that if you report enough times of something incredible, people will see the truth as being incredulous.