EC investigators are carrying out raids on the offices of drug companies around Europe. The raids began in January, and the companies aren't given any advance notice in case executives destroy sensitive documents.
Astonishingly, the raids have been prompted by a general sense of mistrust of the drugs industry rather than by a specific allegation. In other words, they are sure the pharmaceuticals are doing something wrong even if they don't know what it is.
European competition commissioner Nellie Kroes is co-ordinating the raids in the name of antitrust laws, although she has admitted she has not received any specific allegations.
As industry commentator Andrew Jack put it: "Instead of being viewed as heroic providers of the latest life-saving medicines, drug companies seem often to be viewed as 19th century snake oil salesmen."
Suspicions have been fuelled by the knowledge that the drugs industry is heading for a major crunch, with many top-selling drugs losing their patent protection soon. This year blockbusters such as Fosamax, Effexor, Keppra and Risperdal lose their patents, which means their market becomes immediately open to generic, copycat drugs that are also often cheaper. GlaxoSmithKline has already warned of a 7 per cent drop in earnings this year.
(Source: British Medical Journal, 2008; 336: 418-9).