Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Is this really how pharmaceutical companies work?

Via Derek Lowe, we learn of a recently-terminated lawsuit against a pharmaceutical company named Gilead. What interested me were the alleged sales practices of the company, as described in affidavits submitted to the court. CBS Interactive Business Network reports:

The case was interesting because it relied heavily on the spoken words of executives in meetings rather than documents, as is usually the case in pharmaceutical litigation. The takeaway for managers is that just because it’s not in an email doesn’t mean it didn’t happen — and can’t come back to haunt you. In one meeting, sales rep Ricardo Forges of Orange Park, Fla., claimed his boss told him that CVT’s goal was to sell “gobs of dope,” and to “get those pills in people’s mouths any way you can”.

. . .

The drug is only approved for chronic angina in patients where other treatments have failed, and Gilead earns about $240 million a year in revenues from the product. The drug’s use is restricted by the FDA because it carries a risk of heart problems. Forges, however, claims that the company didn’t care whether the drug was promoted on- or off-label, and pushed the product for unapproved uses such as coronary artery disease and heart failure. At one point his boss threatened to fire him if he was caught promoting Ranexa only for the FDA-approved purpose, he alleged. At another meeting, a CVT manager allegedly told Forges “I do not care what you do to sell the drug”.

. . .

CVT even allegedly had an internal jargon for unofficial, unapproved sales materials created off the record: “homemade bread.”

There's more at the link. Very interesting reading.

That's a one-sided perspective, of course. As one of the commenters on Derek Lowe's post reminds us:

I think you were right to point out that this is only one side of a case and perhaps I would emphasize that point even more strongly. This is a party who is hoping to make boatloads of money by a successful whistleblower suit. The fact that the DOJ did not pursue the case would make me even more cautious. People allege things all the time and where they have a monetary interest in the outcome, well....Without emails, recorded conversations, etc, something like this is pretty much meaningless in my opinion.

However, I'd still like to know whether or not those reported instructions (and the underlying attitudes they expose) attributed to Gilead executives are, in fact, correct. If so, the company deserves to be crucified, morally, financially and legally. Legitimate marketing is one thing. Aggressive over-marketing of a powerful narcotic, that's potentially very dangerous - even lethal - if misused, is entirely another! I'd also like to know whether such attitudes and marketing practices are considered normal and/or acceptable by the rest of the pharmaceutical industry. They might argue that it's 'just business', I guess - but when that 'business' directly and immediately affects my health, possibly negatively, that's anything but acceptable to me!


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