How Big Pharma markets its profitable drugs

Posted on February 16, 2016 in Health Delivery System – Health Care – The Council of Canadians / Acting for Social Justice
February 16, 2016

Profit is not the cureSimply put, Big Pharma markets its drugs through doctors.

The McGill Daily explains, “Drug reps, more formally known as pharmaceutical sales representatives, are the direct contact between pharmaceutical companies and those who have the power to write prescriptions: doctors. These drug reps provide information to medical professionals about newly available drugs and offer free drug samples for doctors to pass to patients for trial use. As a result, drug reps have a large impact on pharmaceutical sales and how often one brand of a given drug is prescribed over another brand’s version.”

This morning, the Toronto Star reports, “A three-course dinner was served to the doctors assembled to hear the presentation in the restaurant’s private dining room. After the plates were cleared, the speaker, a general practitioner with a specialty in chronic pain, wrapped up his lecture and slide show. While discussing effective drugs for lower back pain that is moderate but persistent, he zeroed in: The best medication for that is Cymbalta. Cymbalta is a prescription drug made by Eli Lilly — the company that organized the event, paid for the wine and food, and paid the doctor giving the talk.”

“A Star investigation has found drug companies routinely host and fund these dinners at upscale restaurants as training events for family doctors. Toronto-area spots include Sassafraz in Yorkville, ORO on Elm Street and, in the case of the back pain event, Italian restaurant Sarpa in Richmond Hill. These events are called continuing medical education. There is growing concern among critics that these dinners — which are sanctioned by a national medical organization — encourage doctors to prescribe the sponsoring companies’ drugs.”

The article continues, “Family doctors are most often responsible for choosing what drugs Canadians are prescribed. In Ontario, where there have been more than 500 industry-sponsored events in the last two years, physicians are required to attend ‘continuing medical education’ to keep their licence in good standing. These medical education events are vetted and approved by the College of Family Physicians of Canada, which represents more than 30,000 physicians. A task force created by the College acknowledged that the drug industry’s interests are ‘not always aligned with the best interests’ of family doctors or their patients.”

And the newspaper notes, “Some U.S. organizations, including Oregon’s college of family physicians, have outright banned all industry involvement with medical education out of concern it is biasing doctors and leading to poorer prescribing. Still, Canada’s family physician college said it has no plans to cut ties with drug companies.”

Last month, the National Post reported on the “modest recommendations” from the College of Family Physicians of Canada including, “making conflicts of interest more transparent, setting up a new, independent fund for continuing education that won’t be linked to specific sponsors, and letting doctors get their meals at college conferences without running the gauntlet of industry marketing booths.” The article adds, “But the college is stopping well short of turning off the flow of pharmaceutical money — and still refuses to divulge an analysis of exactly how much corporate funding its educational programs receive.”

On perhaps a more positive note, the McGill Daily reports, “The McGill Health Clinic will [now] take meetings with any rep who has an applicable drug, but bans reps who are not selling useful drugs to the clinic, and haven’t formed a special or exclusive relationship with any major company. Both the McGill Health Clinic and Mental Health Services sometimes distribute samples obtained in part from drug reps. At Mental Health Services, they are used only in cases of financial need. Oftentimes, the Health Clinic prescribes generic drugs (not associated with Big Pharma) because they are cheaper.”

Dalhousie University professor Matthew Herder, an advisor with, recently commented, “If Canada is to implement national pharmacare, surely we want to know more about the drugs we’ll be paying for. …Pharmacare is not a fake fix; it represents major reform with the potential to positively influence pharmaceutical manufacturers by forcing them to provide stronger evidence of the therapeutic value of their products relative to existing ones. But absent fundamental changes in the way pharmaceutical research is rewarded, shared, and scrutinized, any new formulary will be a half measure.”

To read the full Toronto Star investigative report, please click here:  < >

Further reading
Big Pharma seeks even greater profits from longer patents in CETA and the TPP (Jan. 31, 2016): < >

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