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HSC report - The industry session

ìThe world expects instant gratificationî, a top AstraZeneca UK executive told MPs on the Health Select Committee.

ìThe world expects instant gratificationî, a top AstraZeneca UK executive told MPs on the Health Select Committee, during his portrayal of the public's purportedly skewed perception of the risk/benefit balance of pharmaceutical products.

ìThings seem to have gone completely out of balance in terms of public perceptions. Things are either wonder cures or killer medicines,î asserted John Patterson, AstraZeneca UK's executive VP of product strategy, licensing and business development.

His comments came out of a cross-examination of pharmaceutical leviathans AstraZeneca (AZ) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) by the government's Health Select Committee, in which neither company accepted the possibility that they may have immorally pushed their products upon the British healthcare system, or covered up negative trial results.

Quite expectedly, questions were levied during the hour-long session at the GSK (UK) representatives with regard to the alleged 'hiding' of negative data for antidepressant Seroxat.

Dr Stuart Dollow, VP medical division, of GSK (UK), made clear that GSK published the results of all studies ìwhether negative or positiveî. He took the opportunity to ìconfirm that withdrawal effects have always been on Seroxat's label, but have been updated as more information became available to us [GSK]î.

Dr Patterson, at AZ UK, added that ìit may take a long time to find the side-effectsî that are relatively rare. Clinical trials involve a limited number of patients and so ìunless [the drug] turns your ears greenî, side-effects may not be fully appreciated until the drug is used more widely.

Both pharmaceutical companies appeared to present their case soundly as a united front, and provided clear answers to the HSC's questions. They admitted that while the industry had perhaps not always done ìeverything it couldî to prevent its decline in the public's esteem and trust, it also had not always defended itself as strongly as it could have when accused of misdemeanours.

The firms explained that Britain has become a tough place to do pharmaceutical business due to a public that calls increasingly for transparency and more information on the motives behind developing new products, and an inquisitive media that are unremitting in their search for the next big drug story.

Also present were Mr Eddie Gray, senior VP and general manager at GSK Pharma (UK) and Mr Chris Brinsmead, marketing co-president at AZ (UK).

The second half of the HSC session saw Dr Richard Barker, director general of the ABPI, quizzed on the publishing of all clinical trial results and the information provided to GPs from pharma companies.

The only physician on the HSC, Dr Richard Taylor, pursued a line of questioning on the suitability of GPs to make an informed decision to prescribe a drug, when one bears in mind that [citing Dr Barker's own words] ìthe promotional efforts of the [pharma] industry represent around 11 minutes of GPs' weekly timeî, and that the pharmacology constituent of a medic student's training is barely adequate.

ìI'd hesitate to give a simple answer to that; it's a very good question,î Dr Barker replied, admitting that GPs cannot necessarily make a ìcritical analysisî.

Separately, Dr Barker noted that the pharma industry and its efforts should be more highly regarded by the public but that it would necessitate a culture change for it to happen.

ìWe have tended to consolidate the positives ñ and forget rather quickly when new medicines come forward ñ and concentrate on the negatives. We can only get the benefits if we create a culture that is accepting of new medicines,î he said.

30th September 2008

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