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"Partnerships" with pharmaceutical companies: treat with scepticism

The various stakeholders in the health sector do not all have the same goals and interests. It is better for each one to advocate a clear position rather than to enter into risky partnerships.

In the UK, in 2011, different stakeholders tried to join forces with the stated aim of promoting best practice, particularly when it came to relations between healthcare professionals and manufacturers of medicinal products, and clinical trial transparency. Medical journals, healthcare professionals’ organisations, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) and English, Scottish and Welsh government representatives endorsed two sets of guidelines on the subject.

Some outside observers were struck by how biased these guidelines are in favour of pharmaceutical companies, echoing their usual arguments, including: “medical sales representatives can be a useful resource for healthcare professionals”; “information about industry-sponsored trials is publicly available”. Assertions that are contradicted by numerous studies.

The group disbanded as a result of criticism. It transpired that some stakeholders had naively joined this group so as not to remain isolated, or at the insistence of the ABPI.

The various stakeholders in the health sector – patients, healthcare professionals, the government, insurers – have partly divergent, sometimes conflicting, interests. It is better for each to advocate their own clear stance, rather than to end up in unbalanced or even rigged partnerships, which often lean in favour of the most influential player.

©Prescrire 1 July 2014

""Partnership" or manipulation?" Prescrire Int 2014; 23 (151): 195. (Pdf, free).

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