For the benefit of mankind (but shareholders first)
November 29th 2007, 09:52 | Bryan Hubbard
For that small handful of you who remain convinced that the pharmaceutical industry is there solely for the benefit of mankind, please read on (and if you already know it's not, please read on as well, otherwise I'll lose my entire audience in the first paragraph).
The money-making ways of the drugs industry are well known to many doctors, researchers, academics, and politicians (some of whom have shamelessly taken bribes, donations and gifts from a drug company or three) - now they're known to the well-meaning delegates of the World Health Organization (WHO).
As millions of people in developing countries die needlessly each year, the WHO thought it would be quite a good idea if drugs and research could be made available to these poorer nations and people.
In all, 193 member states participated in the initial review phase, and then invited interested groups - such as the drug companies - to add their views to the strategy.
To nobody's great surprise within WHO, 11 of the 12 drug-industry groups hid behind the needs of intellectual property (IP) to protect their research and patents. In other words, they would have loved to help those poor, dying people, but IP is IP.
But what did surprise the delegates was that 11 of the 14 patient groups that were consulted sympathised with the drug industry's position, and agreed with them that life may be sacred, but IP (and the interests of shareholders) is more so.
On closer examination, the delegates discovered that the groups happened to be receiving generous grants from. . .(oh, do I really have to say it?)
The delegates were also disappointed to read that the submissions from the patients' groups used identical phrases. It was almost as if they were taking dictation from. . .(oh, do I really have to say it?)
Representatives from Thailand, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and India, who attended the WHO meeting, wrote about their concerns in The Lancet the other week. In a wonderfully understated statement, they said: ". . .we have serious doubts as to the motives and the credibility of these submissions to the public hearing."
At the end, they also wrote: "We declare that we have no conflict of interest." Now that's a phrase you don't see too often in the pages of The Lancet.