Good News Bad News - Pharmaceutical Executive


Good News Bad News
It's not just industry paranoia. A survey of newspaper coverage reveals that pharma news is largely negative.

Pharmaceutical Executive

We also analyzed each complete article to determine whether it took a positive, negative, or neutral position toward the pharmaceutical industry. For example, any article that espoused the merits of programs or legislative attempts to approve drug imports from Canada—a position that the industry opposes—was deemed negative. In contrast, an article that focused on the safety concerns of imported drugs was designated as positive, given the industry's perspective.

The vast majority of articles focused on ethical issues that had defensible pro and con positions. For example, allowing drug importation from Canada may cut drug prices for Americans and make drugs more accessible to the uninsured—this is a pro. But importation may also compromise drug safety and make it increasingly difficult for pharmaceutical companies to recover R&D expenditures—con. Articles that had no defensible opposing view were not included in the analysis. For example, one article discussed "one of the biggest health scourges of the developing world: counterfeit pharmaceuticals." The text described how fake, substandard, and expired medicines were being sold in pharmacies and outdoor markets. But given that few if any people think that counterfeit medication is a good thing—that is, there was no controversial point—the article was omitted from the analysis.

Regardless of the dominant position taken by the article, we also looked to see if the articles included the opposing point of view. When an explicit statement about an opposing view was included in the article—even if the two sides did not receive equal coverage—we concluded that the article covered both sides. When no mention of the opposing view was presented, the article was labeled as one-sided.

Hot Button Issues This audit clearly confirms industry's perception: Press coverage tends to be critical of pharma practices and positions. Almost 70 percent of the articles the research team audited took positions contrary to those endorsed by PhRMA. Those articles most often focused on pricing, data disclosure, and importation/reimportation of drugs.

Pricing Pricing emerged as the single most dominant issue in the audit, with 68 hits in 105 articles (64.8 percent). Many of the articles in that group focused on generics and drug imports in the context of ways to reduce drug prices.

USA Today reported, "AARP's study of 155 name-brand drugs found an average price increase of 27.6 percent over four years... compared to a 10.4 percent inflation rate." A Washington Post editorial predicted that drug price control legislation is likely, and said, "the key question is how quickly it will come." The Los Angeles Times reported efforts by the city to enact a proposal to establish a consortium to buy drugs in bulk to receive better pricing for residents, employers, and hospitals, claiming that "the [federal] ban on negotiating bulk-rate prices benefits only the powerful drug companies, not the taxpayers."

In defense of the industry, the Washington Post published an editorial by Robert Goldberg, director of the Center for Medical Progress at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, arguing that the US produces more new drugs "than any other country because it is largely free of price controls." It also said, "About 75 percent of all new drugs are discovered and used in the US first." Further, "Innovation and patients will get hurt" if the emotional appeal for price controls is heeded.

Data disclosure Articles about data disclosure of research results (especially for clinical trials and adverse events) were the second—albeit a distant second, compared with pricing—most-reported topic.

Articles that discussed allegations of data suppression by pharma companies hit the top newspapers in light of the problems with antidepressant use by children. A headline in the Washington Post proclaimed: "Drugmakers Prefer Silence on Test Data; Firms Violate US Law by Not Registering Trials." The Washington Post contended that "conflicts of interest and company control of data have thrown out the scientific method."


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