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A futile exercise

Pharma needs to invest in smarter marketing not in fighting costly legal battles

missing image fileI was brought up to believe that in polite company an ostentatious show of crowing, self-congratulation or big headedness was wrong.

It was rude: rude to crow; rude to be too self assertive; rude to show off.

Well, to hell with that. I'm gonna let you have it with both barrels. This is a thousand decibel swagger. This is from the roof tops, at the top of my voice. This comes with a shout that is turning my face purple. I told you so!

I told you so. Time and time again: I told you so. I don't know why I bother, I really don't. It's like talking to a wall, or a teenage daughter.

Time and time again I have told you that the idea of taking the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) to court is a waste of everyone's time, effort, money and reputation. Worse still, it is a waste of taxpayers' time, effort and money in having to respond.

Ordinary working people (unlike the suits in the pharma boardrooms) work hard and sit on supermarket checkouts, dig holes and risk their lives in the service of the public. They are the tax engine room of Britain. They are the millions of working people who live in the vain hope that the government and its agencies will spend their taxes wisely.

They may have an argument about spending money on wars and wind turbines. They may disagree with political correctness gone mad and they may think that doctors are overpaid.

However, I suspect the one thing they might well agree on is that chucking money at lawyers in the defence of law suits that never should have been brought in the first place is not what they go
to work for.

The company (and I refuse to name it and give it more publicity), that has just taken NICE to court over the use of an Alzheimer's drug is suffering, in my opinion, a collective boardroom bout of barminess that beggars belief.

NICE too, however, has wasted time, money and management resources.

NHS rights

The NHS has a perfect right to decide, on whatever grounds it likes, to buy, or not to buy, bog-roll, bandages, pots and pans and pills. Provided it has a
transparent, auditable method of making an informed choice and there is an
accessible appeals process, the health service is bomb proof.

The Pyrrhic victory claimed by the company-I-will-not-name is laughable: a joke. NICE has been found lacking in that it advised the use of a clinical test in the diagnosis of Alzheimer's which is not suitable for potential sufferers whose first language is not English, or who have a learning disability.

I mean no discourtesy to this handful of potential sufferers when I say, so what? Clinicians are not stupid. They can tell if someone can't manage English and they would, routinely, use an alternative test. The remaining cases against NICE were chucked out and rightly so.

Getting clarity

Let me be clear: dementia, Alzheimer's and similar diseases are cruel conditions that visit a living hell on the families and friends of those who are afflicted. It robs sufferers of independence, dignity, security, safety, peace of mind and life itself. It is a twisted killer that takes years to extract its final toll.

It is a disease that we do not properly understand. It is a disease that, for years, has been 'parked' - too difficult to deal with. Only now, as the numbers of patients and families that face its agonies, increase to epidemic proportions, are we waking up to the fact that we should and must do something. But wasting taxpayers' money on useless court cases is not the answer.

Quite who the lawyers were I do not know. If I ever do find out I wouldn't let them conveyance my next house purchase. Every NHS insider knew what the outcome of the court case would be. You don't need a funny wig to have a bit of commonsense.

Wrong road

If all this isn't bad enough, I now see, reported in the Independent (August 10, 2007) that in the US, Johnson & Johnson, the maker of bandages and baby lotion (and this time it really does deserve to be named), is in the process of suing the American Red Cross! J&J is claiming the distinctive 'red cross' logo is their trademark. Good grief! That sort of corporate arrogance is obscene.

When pharma can't get their own way, or they run out of products, they always turn to their lawyers. They are blind to the damage it does.

Why? Is it too cynical to point out that in the boardroom of any listed corporation, including those of pharma companies, the value of shares is the most important responsibility of the appointed members. It is no coincidence that boardroom executives are remunerated, largely, against the value of the share price. A lawsuit sends out a message to city watchers who are only too willing to mark shares up, a per cent or two, on news - any news. What corporates lose in legal fees it can expect to recoup in share value.

Present pharma business models, 'we invent it and you have to buy it', are not fit for purpose. Primary Care Trust formularies make influencing prescribing decisions in the GP's surgery. The alternative is not to fund patient organisations but to improve marketing strategy and better identify those you need to influence and build a relationship with them.

'The future is in better public relations, smarter marketing, lawyers who sell commonsense as well as legal advice and extending patent life, to reflect the complexity of modern drug development, and to reduce retail prices. It's about a fresh start - remember who told you so!'

The Author
Roy Lilley is a (sometimes controversial) healthcare author and broadcaster

19th September 2007

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