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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 20570

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.

 

Publication type: Journal Article

Davies E
Can Big Pharma put patients first?
BMJ 2013 May 21; 346:
http://www.bmj.com/content/346/bmj.f3285


Abstract:

Edward Davies speaks to the chief medical officers charged with keeping patient safety at the heart of the drug industry

When GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) paid out a $3bn (£1.9bn; €2.3bn) settlement last year it was the largest ever payout for a drug company and was headline news across the world.1

Within GSK, however, it had been seen to be coming for some time. When Andrew Witty took over as chief executive, problems were already on the horizon, says Ellen Strahlman, the company’s former chief medical office (CMO): “Andrew came in in 2008 and had this looming settlement in front of him and asked why did this happen? There were vocal concerns about the timeliness of some data and some major product liability issues, such as with Avandia.”

Seeing something had to change one of Witty’s initial moves was to appoint Strahlman as the first of a new breed of chief medical officer for GSK, and for the industry as a whole.

“This was the best way to stop conflict of interests and was a huge step forward for these companies, which is why I took the job,” says Strahlman.

Since then there has been a movement within the industry to have a post such as this at or near the top level of almost every company. Given their relative novelty there are few examples of how far the individuals can influence a company in the long lifecycle of a drug, for example, and as yet it is hard to pin down their exact remit as nomenclature and responsibilities vary enormously between different firms. But common to all is the view that there needs to be a senior medical voice at the top table who speaks for the patient in terms of safety, who can be turned to by business leaders …

 

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Far too large a section of the treatment of disease is to-day controlled by the big manufacturing pharmacists, who have enslaved us in a plausible pseudo-science...
The blind faith which some men have in medicines illustrates too often the greatest of all human capacities - the capacity for self deception...
Some one will say, Is this all your science has to tell us? Is this the outcome of decades of good clinical work, of patient study of the disease, of anxious trial in such good faith of so many drugs? Give us back the childlike trust of the fathers in antimony and in the lancet rather than this cold nihilism. Not at all! Let us accept the truth, however unpleasant it may be, and with the death rate staring us in the face, let us not be deceived with vain fancies...
we need a stern, iconoclastic spirit which leads, not to nihilism, but to an active skepticism - not the passive skepticism, born of despair, but the active skepticism born of a knowledge that recognizes its limitations and knows full well that only in this attitude of mind can true progress be made.
- William Osler 1909