is required for evil to prevail
is for good men to do nothing.
products are iconic and its reputation among other drug companies
legendary. Many of its sales managers are former military officers,
driven, goal-oriented people, who know how to follow orders
and 'take that hill.' Its executives are the type of people
you want on your side because they know how to get things done
in the face of carnage and adversity.
Pfizer, the world’s biggest drug producer – an award-winning
drug marketing genius with the biggest stable of blockbuster
drugs on the planet – is currently on a very aggressive
campaign to do more than sell drugs. It’s staking out
new territory and investing in innovative ways to influence
the people who make decisions about healthcare. Despite paying
record-breaking fines last year for its criminal behaviour,
Pfizer has proven that it is a company willing to boldly go
where no other pharmaceutical company has gone before.
Canada, it is clear to even casual observers that Pfizer is
very publicly inserting itself into virtually every healthcare,
medical research, patient advocacy and physician education organization
in the country. It’s not like this form of bold public
penetration hasn’t happened in the past (after all, we’re
talking about the maker of Viagra) but this current level of
activity seems emblematic of Pfizer’s immense size, power
and influence in Canada.
the past year, Pfizer managed to wangle an appointment for one
of its top executives to the governing council of Canada’s
premier health research agency: the Canadian Institutes of Health
Research. It has declared that it intends to become a partner
of choice with governments, universities and research institutions
and it has launched numerous funding programs that will further
colonize Canada’s cancer research establishment. It has
had a surprising level of political influence over BC’s
Liberal government; it has also established a new partnership
with the Canadian Medical Association, which represents Canada’s
70,000 doctors who were recently on the receiving end of $780,000
new Pfizer dollars to help educate our physicians.
would call Pfizer’s strategies nothing more than smart
business activity, evidence that the genius behind such drug
blockbuster drugs as Lipitor, Viagra and Norvasc is doing exactly
what companies need to do: increase shareholder value. Pfizer
executives have consistently demonstrated that if you want to
sell drugs, you need to be influencing audiences at every level
of the market – especially physicians, researchers, policymakers,
politicians, the public and media.
competitors are, no doubt, in awe of this company’s activities
over the past year, wondering if they too could be as bold and
astute. Others might say Pfizer ingratiating itself into public
institutions is like letting the money lenders into the temple
and that we need a respectful distance between those who make
money selling treatments and those who provide our healthcare.
But those in the drug industry think differently.
Prix Galien is said to be “the most prestigious award
in the field of Canadian pharmaceutical research and innovation.”
In 2009, judges named Pfizer’s new drug Champix, a smoking
cessation product, as the most innovative of Canada’s
drug research pipeline. (My first thought: if this is the best
Canada’s drug industry can come up with, it is in even
more trouble than I thought, but more on that later). Prix Galien
Canada states that it wishes to “create bridges between
the scientific community, industry and institutions.”
Its spokesperson, Dr. Jacques Gagné, said, “We
are proud to take part in this celebration of successes, victories
“Success, victories and excellence?”
those words really capture what we are rewarding in drug companies?
Are we really seeing the promotion of a scientific culture in
which all citizens benefit? Private markets might be the most
efficient way to invent and market new health products, but
to have it run properly, we should think of the drug industry
as a car – which only works with a functioning gas pedal
'and' a brake system. Without proper and acceptable government
regulation oversight, it could well careen out of control.
is clear that while 2009 was full of bad press for Pfizer, this
last settlement was the fourth time in the last seven years
it has been found guilty of breaking US laws and paying massive
fines. These monetary penalties – the biggest ever –
were particularly harsh, said the judge, emphasizing that Pfizer
doesn’t seem to be able to learn from its past fines and
penalties. He said in his judgment that Pfizer is starting to
look a lot like a habitual offender and the financial penalties
fully considered Pfizer’s 'recidivist' history.
is not the only drug company that has been caught systematically
instructing its sales people to push prescription drugs to doctors
and patients far beyond their approved uses or charged with
illegal promotion, bribery, faking data, price fixing and fraud.
What happens is this: companies get caught. They get charged.
They go free and do the same thing again. In the world of high
stakes drug manufacturing, a mega fine is the cost of doing
need governments willing to say: enough is enough. Enough infiltrating
our research organizations with your money. Enough paying for
our doctors’ education. Enough duping patients. And employees
of companies who witness the wrongdoing need to say 'enough'
before they quit in disgust. Me? My wish for the new year is
for my phone to ring with a Pfizer whistleblower telling me
he’s ready to hand over a box of company documents.
the beginning of a new year, I think that we need to nurture
the growing backlash, not against drug companies, but against
those who run our public institutions who feel compelled to
sell themselves out to the drug industry. In response to the
Pfizer appointment to the CIHR, more than 4,000 people signed
a petition protesting the appointment, including prominent researchers,
ethicists and public policy experts. Throngs of angry voters
must join them, willing to kick the moneylenders out of the
the CIHR Pfizer appointment, many people wrote letters to the
Minister of Health asking, “What were you thinking?”
Steven Lewis, a prominent health policy analyst in Saskatoon,
saw this appointment as particularly sinister and wrote: “One
is hard pressed to view the appointment as anything other than
a deliberate provocation.”
for evidence that doctors are queasy at the influence of ‘Big
Pharma,’ an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association
Journal last year argued that industry-funded CME (continuing
medical education) is unacceptable and that a major overhaul
is needed to erase industry influence. CMAJ’s editor,
Dr. Paul Hebert, wrote, “We seem to have conveniently
forgotten that the pharmaceutical industry is in business to
make money, not to educate health professionals.”
question I’m left with is this: Who in Canada can stop
a criminal recidivist organization from taking over Canada’s
healthcare system piece by piece?
you ponder that and consider your own particular relationship
to Pfizer, consider the following information about Champix,
Pfizer’s award-winning innovative drug that could help
you stop smoking. A bitter reminder that, like most drugs, pharma’s
influence has side effects. The champion Champix has been linked
to a wide range of injuries, including serious accidents and
falls, potentially lethal cardiac rhythm disturbances, severe
skin reactions, acute myocardial infarction, seizures, diabetes,
psychosis, aggression and suicide.
this to cure the disease of smoking. Innovative indeed.
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