The Selling of a Wonder Drug

Four years ago, almost no one had heard of Herceptin. Today, the drug is a household name, and British women with early-stage breast cancer are going to court for the right to get it, even though it is not actually licensed for use in early-stage cancer, and clinical tests have yet to prove it will ever save lives. Sarah Boseley reports on the role played by the Ketchum PR firm to help promote the drug for Roche Pharmaceuticals through support for patient groups such as CancerBACUP, which gets a significant chunk of its funding from Roche and other drug companies. According to one survey, 18 of 24 major patient groups in the UK accept drug-company money. "It is not just the patient groups that drug companies hope to get support from," Bosely writes. "They also want 'opinion leaders' - people with credibility who can be quoted in the papers and on TV. ... But patient groups are the most rewarding target and there is an obvious risk that they could be influenced by companies with turnovers as large as the GDP of small nations."