Pat Thomas writes that the breast cancer drug Herceptin "prolongs a few lives for an average of four months at a cost of £400,000 per life extended, and for the majority of women for whom it does not work there is an increased risk of severe heart damage and the spread of their cancer to the central nervous system." Yet, the British press has declared it a "miracle cure," thanks to savvy PR.
One of the marketing success stories in the world of herbal pills is the hype and advertising that has made Tebonin one of the big-time sellers. If you believe the ads, popping a Tebonin pill a day will relieve tinnitus (the ringing sound some people have in their ears), dizziness and even improve mental alertness. The promoters claim the drug, which is based on a patented extract from the ginkgo biloba tree, improves "impaired micro-circulation," reduces "free radicals" and "promotes optimum cell function."
According to the German manufacturer, Dr. Willmar Schwabe GmbH & Co KG, eight million pills are consumed every day. Schwabe, like so many companies in the herbal supplements sector, trades on its feel-good image. "From Nature, For Health," its website claims. That's the story the company wants you to hear. However, when a small group of Australian doctors and pharmacists, AusPharm Consumer Health Watch, drafted a report raising doubts about the benefits of Tebonin, they discovered a company that was not so warm and fuzzy. Soon after sending a copy of their draft report to the company, they were hit with a writ seeking an injunction that may bury their critical assessment forever.
Drug company funding for the Mental Health Council of Australia to run lobbying and disease awareness campaigns, The Age reports, raises "questions about whether the agendas of a consumer group and that of a multinational drug company are the same." Some of the companies that have funded the council include Pfizer, Janssen-Cilag, Eli Li
A study published in the Internal Medicine Journal reveals that many Australian medical specialists seek gifts from drug companies. The study of 823 specialists, Melissa Fyfe writes in the Sydney Morning Herald, "found that personal gifts offered to doctors were valued up to $40,000 and included wine, flowers, a 'spa' dinner, harbour cruises, tickets to the movies, the circus, concerts, opera and sporting events." Six specialists sought funding for the salaries of nurses, one for A$80,000 (US$60,000).
Australian drug companies have been directed to disclose details of their funding of 'educational' events for doctors.
In March this year Dr. Peter Gleason, a Maryland psychiatrist, was arrested by the FBI at a Long Island train station and later charged for promoting off-label use of Xyrem, a prescription drug manufactured by Jazz Pharmaceuticals. The New York Times reports that federal prosecutors allege that "at hundreds of speeches and seminars where he was rewarded with generous fees, Dr.
The world's third largest drug company, Sanofi-Aventis, sponsored a tour to Budapest and Paris for a "parliamentary and stakeholder working group" including representatives from British patient groups. The tour included "optional attendance" at lectures at the European Association of Cancer Research conference in Budapest and a presentation in Paris on cancer drugs used in France but not yet approved in Britain.