Bad doctors earning good money from Big Pharma

ProPublica is an independent, non-profit news agency that produces investigative journalism in the public interest – and this year, it became the first online newsroom to win the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. When they start digging, they find something interesting. Lately, ProPublica has been investigating Big Pharma marketing,  particularly the growing practice of recruiting, training and paying doctors to give presentations to other docs about specific drugs.

They’re part of the pharmaceutical industry’s white-coat sales force, doctors paid to promote brand name prescription drugs to their peers — and if they’re convincing enough, to get more physicians to prescribe them.   Continue reading

Is your doctor a “thought leader”?

When a drug company’s sales rep needs to get a doctor to write more prescriptions for his company’s drug, there’s one almost foolproof way to get that task accomplished, according to a revealing National Public Radio report called Drug Company Flattery Wins Docs, Influences Prescriptions.

“To get a doctor to write more prescriptions, the drug rep asks the doctor to become a speaker on the company’s Speakers Bureau.”

For example, drug giant GlaxoSmithKline, like most other drug companies, hires doctors to speak to other doctors as part of their Speakers Bureau marketing efforts. The top GSK drug that their paid Speakers Bureau doctors talk about is called Avodart, a drug prescribed to treat enlarged prostates, and which has been locked in a heated sales battle with its main competition, Merck’s Proscar (now available as a generic).

But over the past five years of these Speakers Bureau presentations, Avodart has seen its sales more than quadruple and its market share double. Convincing a doctor to push your drug to his/her peers during a paid Speakers Bureau presentation really does seem to work.

According to this NPR report (in partnership with the Pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalists from ProPublica), drug companies train their sales reps to approach potential Speakers Bureau doctors in a very specific way. Drug reps use language that deliberately fosters the idea that the Speakers Bureau doctors they hire are educators, and not just educators, but the “smartest of the smart”.

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Big Pharma’s biggest ‘phlops’

It can be a long and expensive journey taking an average of 12 years and over $350 million to get a new drug from the pharmaceutical research lab to your medicine cabinet. (To learn more about this epic journey, read How A New Drug Gets Approved.) But sometimes, even after winning regulatory approval, the drug turns out to be a complete loser in the marketplace.

Fierce Pharma lists these intriguing example of some of the biggest Big Pharma Phlops:   Continue reading

When you use bad science to sell drugs

Whenever I feel like I don’t have quite enough aggravation in my life, I used to like checking out Stuart Laidlaw’s medical ethics column in the Toronto Star. For example, Stuart’s eagle eye once spotted a disturbing article about ‘marketing-based medicine’ published in the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry. It looked at the ever-so-slightly sleazy topic of data fishing.  This is what Big Pharma does when science is used improperly to help market their drugs.  This includes selective use of clinical trial results to suppress or spin negative results.

For the sake of clarity, let’s call this “lying”.

Another example of marketing-based medicine is the alarmingly dangerous practice of medical ghostwriting. This happens when a report that’s bought and paid for by the drug company to give a positive review of one of its products is then published in medical journals under the name of a respected academic who had little (if anything) to do with the actual journal article.  See also: Partners in Slime: Why You Should Be Alarmed About Medical Ghostwriting. Continue reading

Why is Big Pharma getting away with paying billions in criminal fines – but avoiding criminal charges?

Drug giant AstraZeneca has been working on a back room legal settlement deal with the U.S. government since last fall. And according to a New York Times investigation, the company has earmarked $520 million for the purpose.

According to the Times, the final arrangement will wrap up two federal investigations: one related to doctors who participated in clinical trials of the drug and another involved the company’s sales organization. The company allegedly misled both doctors and patients about the safety of its atypical anti-psychotic drug Seroquel, downplaying the known risks of weight gain and diabetes.

AstraZeneca has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

The drugmaker will pay $520 million in criminal fines and sign a corporate integrity agreement to settle probes into its marketing of the anti-psychotic drug. But the company will not face any criminal charges.   Continue reading

If only Avandia were more like Toyota

Poor Toyota.  The car maker has been forced to recall more than 8 million vehicles worldwide after news that at least 34 deaths have been linked to Toyota vehicle problems going back as far as 2004. But compare those 34 deaths with the more than 1,000 reports of patient deaths linked with the prescription drug Avandia in just one nine-month period last year, a death rate described by an Institute for Safe Medication Practices report as: “more than any other drug we monitor.” John Mack, editor of Pharma Marketing News, warns:

“If people are afraid to buy Toyotas, then based on average yearly death rates, they should be about 400 times more afraid to take Avandia.”   Continue reading