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Authors of an article in this week’s issue of THE LANCET-the first of a series of four articles assessing the role of the pharmaceutical industry in medicine-are critical of the way in which multinational pharmaceutical companies manipulate the provision of information, and say that this contributes to a distortion of medical research.

Joe Collier and Ike Iheanacho from Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin, London, UK, comment on how the pharmaceutical industry spends more time and resources on the generation, collation, and dissemination of medical information than it does on production of medicines. This information, they state, is essential as a resource for development of medicines, and is also needed to satisfy licensing requirements, protect patents, promote sales, and advise patients, prescribers, and dispensers. Such information is of great commercial value, and most of it is confidential, protected by regulations about intellectual property rights.

Joe Collier comments: “Through their generation and dissemination of information, transnational companies can greatly influence clinical practice. Sometimes, their commercially determined goals represent genuine advances in health-care provision, but most often they are implicated in excessive and costly production of information that is largely kept secret, often duplicated, and can risk undermining the best interests of patients and society.”

Ike Iheanacho concludes: “Through their investment in research, transnational companies have an important effect on the direction of medical research generally; via their promotional and educational activity, they are probably the biggest individual influence on prescribing practice. For the pharmaceutical industry, investment in information is time and money well spent. However, the huge scale of work involved, lack of openness, accompanying duplication, and distortion of the overall research effort and resulting messages make the business of information-generation inefficient and threatens patients’ interests.”

An accompanying Lancet Commentary (p 1346) introduces the series and highlights the symbiotic relationship between medical journals and the pharmaceutical industry-both benefiting from each other-but cautions that ‘Editors of medical journals should make decisions on content based on public-health needs, their journal`s readership, and the medical community`s needs, not on likely reprint revenues or advertising potential.’

* See also this week’s Lancet editorial, ‘An innovative challenge to the pharmaceutical industry (p 1341)’.

Contact: Dr Ike Iheanacho, Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin, 2 Marylebone Rd, London NW1 4DF; T) +44 (0)20 7770 7554; F) +44 (0)20 7770 7665; E) Ike.Iheanacho@which.co.uk

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