Transparency is the Word These Days OpEd by John Mack

Do a Google search on “drug industry transparency” and you will find entries like the following from among the 516,00 or so results:

“Drug companies need push on transparency;” a Pasadena Star-News opinion piece on reporting clinical trials sponsored by drug companies.

“Shaking Up the Drug Industry,” which is an article in Sojouners Magazine about a whistle-blower, wholesale drug prices, and Medicare over-billing by the pharmaceutical industry.

“Freebies to MDs targeted as drug industry starts publicizing CME fines;” an article about Canada’s pharmaceutical industry trade association publishing violations of CME rules made by their member companies.

“PhRMA CEO Tauzin Discusses Drug Industry Image, Reimportation, Other Issues;” in which Rep. Diana Degette (D-Colo.) was quoted as saying, “The public has lost a lot of confidence in drug companies, the FDA and congressional oversight in recent years. There needs to be more transparency by all parties in how drugs are brought to market and sold.”

What was true in 2005 is even more true today (December 2011). Today, the same Google search on “drug industry transparency” yields about 2,350,000 results! The top results these days are not from newspapers and magazines, however. They are from blogs such as the World of DTC Marketing blog, which posted “Kindness and transparency are now dominant discriminators for consumers“. “While I am sure that the drug industry would like to be more transparent my guess is that it would give their legal departments a lot of work,” said Rich Meyer, author of that blog.

Transparency is demanded in all aspects of pharma’s business from drug discovery through marketing and sales.

Sometimes, it seems that the industry merely cranks out PR about being transparent without actually being transparent.

Last year, for example, pharma companies announced initiatives to list all pharma-supported clinical trials on Web sites. Yet a Boston Globe article published in January entitled “Drug firms lagging on openness” states “six months after the drug industry vowed to make its clinical trials more transparent, and three months after launching a common website to give the public ‘unprecedented access’ to studies both good and bad, drug companies have posted unpublished trial results on the site for just five drugs.”

Maybe things have changed since January regarding the situation with clinical trials, but there are signs that pharma companies are still having problems with the transparency thing. PhRMA, for example, seems to have qualms about FDA’s plan to post “unvalidated” safety data on it proposed Drug Watch Site (see “Drug Risk Survey Results” in this issue).

Pharma Employees Need a Voice!
The vast majority of employees, managers, and executives at pharmaceutical companies are very dedicated and honest people that want to do the right thing and implement PR slogans like “Patients come first” in their jobs. But they are almost always muzzled (see “Peter Rost: Pharma’s Black Knight“).

Here’s what I propose. Instead of fancy, expensive ads or PR campaigns, why don’t pharma companies interview a few employees and let us hear directly from them? Better yet, pharma companies should start blogs and have employees contribute. This may give the industry a credible voice to counteract all the outside voices railed against it.

Vol. 4, No.6: June 2005
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