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Ties between pharmaceutical companies and regulators: too close for comfort

Pharmaceutical companies have imposed their commercial interests and values, to the detriment of pharmaceutical policies and medical practices.

Harvard University's Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics (US) has published a collection of articles on the theme of "Institutional corruption and pharmaceutical policy", in which 16 authors describe various aspects of the institutional corruption of pharmaceutical policy and medical practice. In this context, corruption refers to being diverted from their purpose and from values that serve the public interest by the special interests of the pharmaceutical industry.

"As a result, practitioners may think they are using reliable information to engage in sound medical practice, while they are actually relying on misleading information; they may then prescribe drugs that are unnecessary or harmful to patients, or  more costly than equivalent medications".

Another academic analysis showed that persons who work for the pharmaceutical industry and those who work for the US drug regulatory agency (FDA) have, over the years, developed a common culture. Regulators have become "pro-industry", having adopted the same views as pharmaceutical companies (an aspect of the phenomenon referred to as "regulatory capture"), in particular by accepting that "there is a direct tradeoff between drug safety and drug innovation". In summary, "the political organizations of the global pharmaceutical industry have come to shape the conversation about how drugs ought to be regulated".

"Institutional corruption" and "regulatory capture" are strong terms, on a par with the damage caused by the situation they describe. Thinking and acting first and foremost in the interest of patients is now, more than ever, the necessary antidote to the corruption in the field of healthcare.

©Prescrire 1 April 2014

"Pharma Corruption" Prescrire Int 2014; 23 (148): 88. (Pdf, free).

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