A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Truth in advertising? Not for BIO

Truth in advertising? Not for BIO

August 7, 2008

For an industry that regularly tops the charts on profit margins, we weren’t surprised to see the full page ad in the Boston Globe today, signed by Biotechnology Industry Association, Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Massachusetts High Technology Council, Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, and the PhRMA itself. To be honest, we were sort of surprised that they didn’t underwrite an entire special edition of the Globe.

Framed as an epic decision for Massachusetts Gov. Patrick, who must soon take action on the health care cost and quality bill passed by the Massachusetts legislature last week, the full-page humdinger pulls out all the stops. There’s size, of course. Flattery (“Governors everywhere...have always been extremely envious of the Massachusetts’ Life Sciences sector”). Matters of Life and Death: “The hope for so many patients, suffering so much, will be diminished.”). And then, our personal favorite, the good ol’ Pat on the Back: “Is our industry successful, absolutely!”

But it’s hard for us to see why an industry so successful is fearfully baring its teeth at a bill that merely codifies its own code of conduct, which already bans sales reps from giving doctors small gifts and travel. If the industry is as proud as it says about making “products that save thousands of lives every day,” then it shouldn’t be so worried about having to stop treating doctors to dinner. The merits of those products should speak for themselves.

The ad signatories go on to warn of the doom to befall the Bay State if Gov. Patrick signs this bill, which they say will force clinical trials being done in the Commonwealth “elsewhere tomorrow.” “The chilling effect that this will have on the life sciences industry in Massachusetts could not be more obvious,” the ad intones. A less than gracious threat to a state that just committed $1 billion to the life sciences enterprise.

Now, we don’t know much about writing newspaper ads – but we think that when you address the Governor, you should assume he’s read the bill. And for anyone who has read the bill, the claims about clinical trials in this full-page epistle are plainly false – lawmakers explicitly designed it so it would not hinder or interfere with biopharmaceutical research: (S. 2863, Chapter 111N, Section 2) “The marketing code of conduct adopted by the department shall allow:... 4) compensation for the substantial professional or consulting services of a health care practitioner in connection with a genuine research project or a clinical trial.” Furthermore, patients will still be able to receive free drugs during clinical trials, since samples continue to be allowed under the bill.

“The legislation that awaits Governor Patrick’s decision will significantly curtail, if not end all together, the availability of these last hope clinical trials,” the ad says, because the law would require companies to disclose “the products and areas of research” in which they are involved.

This law wouldn’t do that at all. And much information on clinical trials is already public record – by law, drug companies seeking FDA approval are required to register those data about all clinical trials on clinicaltrials.gov. The only way the new law would affect clinical trials is to disclose the amounts paid to investigators. And if the industry is as proud as it claims to be for creating life-saving products, then viable payments for legitimate services should be no problem – and are certainly no trade secret.

“These are your family members, friends, neighbors,” the ad goes on. Precisely. This act, as part of the larger cost and quality bill, would serve those very people by making sure their doctors have the unbiased information on the safest, most effective drugs, and by letting them see whether their doctors take money and gifts from the companies who make the drugs they’re prescribed.

Governor, this bill means good medicine for your family members, friends, and neighbors, and we urge you to sign it.

Kate Petersen, Prescription Project