Pharma Businesses, we would like to think they are funding and researching advancements in medicine. In reality, there have been many cases of shady marketing tactics and corporate greed that may have flown under the radar.
Below are a few examples summarized.
Repackaging of drugs
Some companies managed to find new uses and new markets to sell for the same drug. And by getting officially approved by the regulating bodies, these companies’ marketing tactics ensured they have more than 1 revenue stream for essentially the same product.
A great example is Eli Lilly, who gave us Prozac and Sarafem. Prozac sounds scientific and serious enough to be an antidepressant, but Sarafem sounds much warmer and feminine (from the ancient word Seraphim that describes an angelic being) and was marketed to women for premenstrual dysphoric disorder. These 2 are chemically identical, but the pills have a different colour and packaging and the marketing focused on 2 different uses for it.
When certain substances are considered banned by the government the research itself will be limited and in some cases very biased. But even outside of that in the legal realm of medicine, research can be skewed to benefit the company’s marketing.
If a company on the verge of introducing a new product knows about certain adverse effects, they may choose to specifically publish alternative results to counter these side effects. Creating the impression this new product has already had these effects researched, unknowingly by the same company that produced it.
This also involves the marketing department of such companies drafting and editing favourable medical articles about their own product and paying to have doctors’ signatures to solidify the product’s uses as in the case of Medtronic.
What also may happen is that multiple studies are done on a product, but only the ones with favourable results get published. Results that were independently done not by the drug company or results that were non-favourable would not get published.
This is a bit of an obvious one, that when someone is incentivized to sell you the benefits of a product they will conveniently leave out certain less-than-favourable details about that product.
And in fact, based on questionnaires over the years that doctors from some countries such as USA, Canada and France have filled out about the products that they were using on their patients, in a majority of the cases they found the sales representatives did not inform them about negative side effects or any other limitations of use such as patient age and recommended dosages for example.
Who drug companies have on their payroll is also very interesting to know. Take the below 2 examples as some food for thought.
Some years ago the product Advair was one of America’s leading asthma medications. It was even officially recommended by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The problem? GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) was the company that owned Advair, and 12 of the 18-panel members for the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute were paid by GSK.
Another example from the past is the company Wyeth (eventually bought by Pfizer). They had 2 hormone therapy drugs called Prempro and Premarin. Both were discovered to have increased risks of breast cancer, heart disease, strokes, and blood clots.
The problem? By the time these negative findings were discovered the products were already available for sale. Instead of recalling, Wyeth created their own Council on Hormone Education and staffed 85% with their own paid members. They spent 6 years educating doctors and anyone else who wanted to listen that their hormone products were safe and effective to use, and brushed off the increased risks to lifestyle choices of the patients.
These usually happen so drug companies can increase their market share or get regulatory officials off their backs. And certainly, a lot of companies have been fined for these practices. Below are a few examples.
- GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) – investigated for $500 million in bribes in China alone, to doctors, government officials and even hospital administrators.
- Pfizer – caught bribing medical professionals in Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Italy, Kazakhstan, Russia, China, and Serbia. In China, they even created ‘point programs’ that could be redeemed for gifts like phones and tea sets based on how many prescriptions the physicians wrote.
- Eli Lilly – “literally everyone does this” was their response when asked why they sent doctors and government officials on jewellery and spa treatments.
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