You’ve got to hand it to Sanofi-Aventis.
At the same time as the Vioxx case before the Federal Court is producing an alarming string of stories about the hazards of overly close ties between doctors and pharma (as an example, see this story in the Oz and this one in The Age), Sanofi-Aventis has enticed a prominent medical research institute into a bed that is likely to prove most uncomfortable.
The 1 May issue of Australian Doctor has just landed on my desk, confirming this story in today’s Oz.
Page 13 carries a Sanofi-Aventis ad for its blood thinning medicine clopidogrel (brand name Plavix) that also boasts the logo of the Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute.
Readers are told: “When you write a Plavix script, Baker IDI & Diabetes Institute benefits too. For every Plavix script dispensed through retail pharmacy in 2009, sanofi-aventis will donate 25c to support their medical research and preventative health programs.”
The deal has already raised $100,681 for the Baker, according to the advertisement.
It’s a clever campaign. While everyone loves to receive a gift, most people feel even better about giving one. Rather than wooing doctors with the usual range of prezzies – nice meals, trips to somewhere exotic, crappy pens etc – this campaign is turning them into gift-givers.
This may be clever but it’s also extremely dubious. Is it suggesting that considerations other than what is best for the patient before them might influence doctors’ prescribing choices? Perish the thought.
And here’s a few other questions:
• Will all of the Institute’s researchers be declaring this tie in their future conflict of interest statements?
• Will they declare this conflict when making any public pronouncements – in the media, in journals, at conferences, in committee meetings – about any conditions or areas of research where Sanofi-Aventis may have an interest, especially in relation to this drug?
• Will the public’s confidence in the Institute and its scientific integrity be dented?
One of the lessons to have emerged so far from the Vioxx case is the naivity – or perhaps in some cases wilful ignorance – with which many doctors have entered into relationships with pharmaceutical companies.
The companies use these relationships to their marketing advantage; while there may be some gains for the individual doctors involved in terms of access to research funding and so on, they also risk suffering damage to their reputations and perceived independence.
This may also be the lesson for the Baker; the deal may bring them in some extra dollars, but at what cost?