Grass Roots Seeded by Drugmaker

"Showing all the signs of a thriving grass-roots movement, a host of new health-care groups are drawing attention to the perils of a contagious, sometimes lethal virus called hepatitis C," writes Robert O'Harrow. "But contrary to appearances, these coalitions are not spontaneous gatherings of concerned citizens. They are instead a key part of a carefully orchestrated marketing campaign funded by Schering-Plough Corp. to sell the primary therapy for hepatitis C, Rebetron, which costs $18,000 a year." Several members of the Hepatitis C Coalition are on the payroll of the Shandwick PR firm. "Medical ethics experts agree that more should be done to educate people about hepatitis C. But some say the Schering-funded coalitions raise troubling conflict-of-interest issues," O'Harrow writes. Health activists are angry about the price Schering charges for its Rebetron, a hepatitis C medication that bundles interferon with ribavirin. Patients on Rebetron pay $18,000/year - $1,000 more per month than they would pay if they could simply buy interferon and ribavirin separately through a compounding pharmacy.