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European pharma marketing under the cosh

International consumer group calls for greater transparency on drug promotion activities

An international consumer lobby group has accused pharmaceutical firms operating in Europe of unscrupulous marketing practices and has called for a tighter regulatory system to `rein in' the industry.

In a report, Branding the Cure, Consumers International (CI) said there was a 'shocking lack of publicly available information' about the $60bn spent by the global industry on drug promotion. The study described methods such as sponsoring patient lobby groups, funding disease awareness campaigns and offering hospitality to medical experts as `new and inconspicuous ways to influence consumer opinion'.

The report analysed the practices of 20 of the biggest pharma firms in Europe, including Pfizer, sanofi-aventis, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca (AZ). It criticised firms for a lack of transparency in reporting their marketing budgets and publishing information on their marketing practices.

Of the 20 companies studied, only Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) provided a marketing code of conduct to consumers. Only four companies (AZ, BMS, Novartis and Roche) described clear corporate procedures for the approval of all promotional materials. More than half of the companies featured in the report were implicated in controversies regarding their relationships to healthcare professionals between 2001-2005, it said.

ìThe pharmaceutical industry spends nearly twice as much on marketing as it does on research and development, yet consumers know next to nothing about where this money is going,î said CI director general, Richard Lloyd. ìOnly then can consumers make an informed and independent choice about the pharmaceutical products they buy.î

Richard Ley, spokesman for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) defended the UK industry's work with patient groups.

ìWe introduced a revised Code of Practice at the beginning of the year, and one of the areas it looked at was relationships with patient groups,î he said. ìIt's important we have a transparent relationship with them, and it's now a requirement that such liaisons are made public on a company's website or in its annual report.î

He added that the industry and patient groups had many aims in common particularly ìaccess to modern, innovative medicinesî.

30th September 2008

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