Tag Archives: pharmaceutical companies

When covering drug-price reform, keep patients’ medication costs in perspective

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the trade group for drug makers, produced the ad on the left that has been called misleading. The AARP produced the ad on the right calling out PhRMA for attempting to scare seniors into opposing efforts in Congress to pass drug-price reforms. (Photo courtesy of PhRMA and AARP’s YouTube video ads.)

Last week, Aimee Picchi reported for CBS News on a new Gallup and West Health survey showing that 18 million Americans (7% of U.S. adults) cannot afford the medications their doctors prescribe.

Households with annual income under $24,000 struggle even more, she wrote, adding that almost 20% of those Americans were unable to pay for at least one prescription drug in the previous three months. To save money, about 10% of all adults skipped a pill in the prior year, she noted. Gallup and West Health surveyed some 5,000 adults in June.

Picchi made two important points for journalists to consider when writing about efforts in Congress to reform how much Americans pay for prescription drugs. Continue reading

Rise, fall of two St. Louis pharma companies

Midwest Health Journalism Program fellow Jim Doyle, a reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, tells the story of Forest Pharmaceuticals (a subsidiary of Forest Laboratories), which has been accused by federal regulators of sketchy marketing practices, primarily involving its antidepressants Celexa and Lexapro and unapproved pediatric use. The company has pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges and agreed to pay $300 million in criminal and civil penalties, Doyle reports.

Armed with the breaking news, Dolye then goes deeper, finds the company’s local roots, charts its rise and tries to pinpoint where it went wrong. It’s the same formula he used for his story on another imploding local drug-maker, KV Pharmaceuticals, earlier this year.

U. of Michigan president sits on pharma board

On The New York Times Prescriptions blog, Duff Wilson reports that while her school has taken a lead in limiting conflicts of interest, University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman herself sits on the board of Johnson & Johnson, a post which earns her $229,978 each year. Her defense is that she’s openly disclosed the relationship, and that the world of pharma and that of university administration rarely intersect.

Responding to questions on Ms. Coleman’s behalf Monday, Kelly E. Cunningham, a spokeswoman for the university, said the president satisfied the policy by disclosing her outside work. Ms. Coleman has never had to recuse herself from any discussion or action at the university because medical purchasing and investment decisions are so remote from her, Ms. Cunningham said.

“The same is true at J&J,” she added. “There has never been a discussion or decision at the board level that involved something related to the UM. But, of course, if there were, she would recuse herself.”

It’s not uncommon for university presidents to sit on corporate boards, Wilson found, but it appears that pharmaceutical companies are a special case given the major role universities play in medical research and health care delivery.

Thomas Donaldson, a corporate governance expert and professor of business ethics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, reviewed the case on Monday for The Times. He said many university presidents serve on corporate boards, but biomedical company boards pose special issues because of the possible ties to university research and medical schools.

“Because of the role of research and also the entrepreneurial interest that lies behind a lot of modern advances in medicine, this is a very difficult issue,” Professor Donaldson said in a telephone interview. “We’ve been aware for decades really that this potential for conflict of interest exists, but we haven’t as a moral community or even inside universities gotten our arms around it yet.”

State NAMI chapters got pharma money too

Wall Street Journal health blogger Katherine Hobson writes that, according to an investigation by Sen. Chuck Grassley, state chapters of the National Alliance of Mental Illness received millions of dollars in contributions from pharmaceutical manufacturers in a five-year period. This follows an Oct. 2009 New York Times report which found that “drug makers from 2006 to 2008 contributed nearly $23 million to the alliance, about three-quarters of its donations.”

The group’s state chapters – except for Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut and Hawaii – reported their own donations to Grassley, he wrote in a letter to NAMI’s executive director and president of the board of directors. According to the letter, the California chapter received $632,000 in contributions between January 2005 and October 2009, the most of any state. Ohio NAMI received $623,000 and New York NAMI $448,000. The top ten states received a total of $3.84 million.

How the pharma research ‘sausage’ is made

Reporting on Health’s William Heisel has posted the latest installment in his series highlighting the spiciest entries in the Drug Industry Document Archive, this time focusing on the cold mechanics of the drug industry’s research paper assembly line, and its intimate relationship with pharmaceutical marketing.

Photo by somegeekintn via Flickr.

Again, Heisel focuses on the deposition of Wyeth ghostwriter Karen Mittleman and related documents and memorandums. He lists the names of some key ghostwriters to look out for, then details a number of specific cases when production and marketing concerns clearly outweighed science, at least as far as the pharmaceutical manufacturers were concerned.