Big Pharma Brandishes a Big Whip

Robert W. Morrow, MD


August 18, 2014

Editor's note: The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Medscape, LLC, WebMD, or their editors, and staff.

I am Dr. Bob Morrow, a family physician in the Bronx. I want you to help me out with your thoughts on what I should do with this blog. Let me first answer the question: What brought me out of my prolonged quiet state?

I was busy with many things, blogging not being one of them. Until, that is, I was struck by a 1-page ad in the New York Times featuring a tiny baby in an isolette. This ad appeared on July 22, 2014. In essence, it said, "Look at this poor little newborn preemie. It is going to die because the pediatricians are against the use of the drug that is being promoted in this ad." It costs a pretty penny to be in the New York Times, of course.

The hypothetical question that this pharmaceutical firm asks in this advertisement is:

Why place these babies at risk? Every few years, a committee from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issues recommendations that progressively narrow the population of babies that they believe should qualify for this medicine. They are about to do it again.

Please, public, stop those evil physicians in the AAP from interfering with the profit stream of this company that has made tens of billions of dollars off of a drug that was developed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Why does this particular 1-page ad in the Times bring me forward? We all know that the pharmaceutical industry does pricing that would make a Somali pirate blush. Whether it is albuterol, colchicine, most of the antibiotics, or any cancer drug, prices have gone through the roof and have impoverished many retirement programs and individuals. Many people go without their drugs because their copays are too high, or because they don't have any insurance and certainly can't afford the medications that are being offered by some of these companies.

In general, the process of developing new drugs is that small companies receive grants from the NIH and develop the drug with governmental monies. Those companies are then bought by bigger companies that provide proof-of-use [a requirement of the Trademark Act] and are bought by even bigger companies, which promptly move off shore so they don't have to pay taxes.

That is the process by which our government, through our taxes, finances this massive industry that turns around and accuses our professional societies of not acting in the interests of the children and adults of the United States.

That is wrong.

We should not have these corporations, which are making massive profits off of pharmaceuticals developed with the public's money, turn around and criticize our professional societies.

Here is a question I want to pose to you: What should we be doing in our professional societies to bring back the sense of purpose of serving our public and not caving in to the pharmaceutical industry on these questions, especially when the pharmaceutical industry has massive infusions of funds to buy advertisements and snap us into line with their own monetary whips?

I would love to hear what you think we, as a group of physicians in our professional societies, should be saying in response to this kind of activity.

I await your responses. This is Dr. Bob Morrow of the Transparent Medical Practice blog. Thanks very much, and I hope to hear from you soon.


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