Transparency Troubles for Pharma

Nov 01, 2013

Jill Wechsler
It seems like open season on the pharmaceutical industry. Academics and consumer activists charge pharma companies with hiding clinical trial information on medical product safety, fueling the campaign to expand public access to confidential research information. The federal government's "Sunshine" program for disclosing financial ties between industry and physicians reflects a lengthy campaign to curb marketing tactics perceived to boost inappropriate prescribing.

Media reports regularly attack high drug prices, both for life-saving specialty drugs and for widely used treatments such as asthma inhalers. And recent disclosures raise questions about too-close ties between pharma companies and Food and Drug Administration officials.

The well-known industry response to these and other charges is that prescription drugs account for only 10 percent of US spending on healthcare and that appropriate drug use saves money by keeping people out of hospitals and operating rooms. Developing new drugs, moreover, is enormously expensive and risky, warranting strong patent protection and a healthy return on investment.

Such arguments, sadly, fail to generate public confidence in the biomedical research enterprise. Public surveys give pharma companies poor ratings, citing high prices, low integrity, and failure to disclose unfavorable safety information. There's a clamor for valid data on drug effectiveness and comparative prices, and high hopes that health reform initiatives will make such information more transparent.

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