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GSK says pharma must become more transparent

GSK vice-president for corporate communications Duncan Learmouth says that pharma needs to become more transparent in its dealings in order to regain the public trust

In an interview with online independent publisher Ethical Corporation, GSK vice-president for corporate communications Duncan Learmouth has said that pharma needs to become more transparent in its dealings in order to regain the public trust.

In the interview, Learmouth says that pharma finds it difficult to explain its work to the public. He added that big pharma was too often associated with big risks, such as health scares.

"There's a danger in the media overplaying the risk side without balancing it with the benefit, and oversimplifying what is a very complicated situation of giving a drug to someone," warned Learmouth.

2007 has been GSK's "annus horribilis". The firm's share price fell to a two-year low in May after its diabetes treatment Avandia (roseglitazone) was linked to increased risks of heart attacks. Sales have fallen 50 per cent in the US and 40 per cent worldwide.

In November, the FDA placed a "black box" warning on the drug, but did not ban it. The decision backed up GSK's claim that the original study linking Avandia to a 43 per cent increase in risk of heart attacks was misleading. The company continues to say that "meta-analysis" looking at a large body of historical clinical data, has found no clear evidence of a link.

Learmouth told Ethical Corporation that pharma will become "ever more transparent". Two years ago GSK decided to publish data on clinical trials online. The decision came after damaging claims that it had concealed clinical trial results from the general public in the case of anti-depressant Seroxat for use in teenagers.

He added that it was wrong to judge the case by today's standards of corporate transparency: "It was not that there was some conspiracy to hide this information, it was just never done."

GSK has recognised the need for much stronger policies on using ghostwriters in preparing end of trial papers. The old practice of using PR agencies to write papers today was no longer enough, explained Learmouth.

"These days a report's lead author, a doctor, must have written the most significant part of a paper. GSK employees and other outsiders involved must also be named in the paper, and their affiliation noted," he stressed.

Learmouth disagreed with critics who say that Big Pharma is finished because of a lack of new treatments in the pipeline. "Because the risk is high and probability is low, chance plays a big part in whether a company can discover a new class of drugs. You have to be a certain size to play the odds of that."

16th December 2007

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