, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 249-264
Date: 16 Feb 2012

Big Pharma: a former insider’s view

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There is no lack of criticisms frequently levelled against the international pharmaceutical industry (Big Pharma): excessive profits, dubious or even dishonest practices, exploiting the sick and selective use of research data. Neither is there a shortage of examples used to support such opinions. A recent book by Brody (Hooked: Ethics, the Medical Profession and the Pharmaceutical Industry, 2008) provides a précis of the main areas of criticism, adopting a twofold strategy: (1) An assumption that the special nature and human need for pharmaceutical medicines requires that such products should not be treated like other commodities and (2) A multilevel descriptive approach that facilitates an ethical analysis of relationships and practices. At the same time, Brody is fully aware of the nature of the fundamental dilemma: the apparent addiction to (and denial of) the widespread availability of gifts and financial support for conferences etc., but recognises that ‘Remove the industry and its products, and a considerable portion of scientific medicine’s power to help the patient vanishes’ (Brody 2008, p. 5). The paper explores some of the relevant issues, and argues that despite the identified shortcomings and a need for rigorous and perhaps enhanced regulation, and realistic price control, the commercially competitive pharmaceutical industry remains the best option for developing safer and more effective medicinal treatments. At the same time, adoption of a broader ethical basis for the industry’s activities, such as a triple bottom line policy, would register an important move in the right direction and go some way toward answering critics.