Archive for the ‘Pharmaceuticals’ Category

The one where I defend Bill Gates

August 5, 2010

I believe it was Spike Milligan who once said “money can’t buy friends, but you can get a better class of enemy.” He wasn’t accounting for envy.

Until the British general election in May, which saw off a government that seemed to be trying to combine all the worst aspects of incompetent socialism with the nastier instincts of fascism (racialist immigration policies, ever more puritanical and police-intrusive legislation), the British left had a nasty, but identifiable purpose.

Now it has none.

This article in the Guardian is the sort of dog vomit one would expect to see in an Ayn Rand parody of a collectivist newsrag.

Bill Gates is big enough and ugly enough to take care of himself (and I hasten to add, has never offered me any inducements to speak his mind). I’m writing this on an old Mac because I don’t trust the first billion copies of Windows 7 to be free of bugs.

(Would a free copy of Vista be a bribe or a threat, I wonder? Pleease, nooo! I’ll say what you want, but don’t put Vista on my poor laptop, noooo!)

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also has its issues for me: it’s rather more politically correct than I would like it (but hey, it’s up to me to make $30 billion and decide how I spend it, right?), and with size and leverage, comes the power to make big mistakes, rather than smaller ones.

Specifically, in a region of an African country where the Gates Foundation chooses to back a malaria project, this will tend to dwarf existing efforts to, say, distribute a vaccine for schistosomiasis (the reason I won’t take my shoes or socks off in some parts of Egypt). The concern is that in the short term, the effect will be to incite most of the health workers to sign up for Gates’ campaign. (more…)

Supreme Court says: “Drop dead, sickos!”

January 16, 2008

In response to this news from the US Supreme Court, I wrote this:

There are two reasons I’ve heard given for opposing “compassionate use,” one bad, one unfortunate.
The unfortunate one is that even the most apparently iron-clad patient litigation waiver can be turned on its head by a trial lawyer or a politician. So drug firms have a lot more to fear than to gain. One might argue this is a case for litigation reform, which I imagine drug firms and patients would support (but patients’ relatives and lawyers would oppose, and they are more numerous, so don’t hold your breath).
Whatever the rights and wrongs of patient waivers, the fact is, a drug firm would be nuts in the USA, to risk an unproven product being given to a patient whose later-bereaved family could claim acted “in extreme duress.” Note that this argument need not apply in other countries, but US citizens would still be affected when abroad, due to the nasty habit of US courts to adopt global claims of jurisdiction. So the system favors foreign patients and foreign drug firms. The UK, for example, does not appear to need an Abigail’s Law, it’s the treatable patients that are excluded, thanks to the NICE.
The bad reason is that even a TERMINALLY ILL patient should be “protected.” From what? Certain death? Constipation or some other adverse effect?
Yes, there is a risk that patients will, in desperation, agree to try out any quackery. But this is a problem in terminal patients… because… they’re going to die anyway? Surely even a placebo effect is worth a try.
It reminds me of the bizarre regulation that bans prisoners on death row from smoking. Like they’re going to develop lung cancer and escape the lethal injection? Again, so what? It all looks like a puritanical hang-up.
It seems that undermining the authority of the FDA to play God is the real problem. I’ve no doubt that any ruling which allows terminally-ill patients is a thin end of the wedge that leads to the FDA’s pronouncements becoming entirely voluntary. If a terminally-ill patient can try a likely dangerous and unproven Chinese remedy containing lead, or the latest monoclodal antibody, why can’t a patient with a 10% chance of recovery? Or 10.01%? At that point why stop at any sick person? There’s no magic number between 0.01% and 99.99% that can be objectively backed against all other options.
My guess is that the Supreme Court’s justices knew that by taking this case, they were opening the proverbial can of worms, in this case, the potential ruling that the FDA serves no constitutionally-valid function, at least at the federal level, and ducked it.
Personally, I don’t accept the right of any authority to prohibit me from taking any medication that I, in a rational state, am prepared to risk taking. And I’d wager the Supreme Court Justices wouldn’t let such rules get in their way either.
Back street oncology clinics, anyone? It’s called the Internet.

The difference is small

February 13, 2007

The difference between being in a cave in pitch darkness and being in a cave and glimpsing a distant opening is physically almost imperceptible, but one tends towards passivity and the other tends to be dynamic.

This Pharma Marketing blog posting about the shifts away from broadcasting or channeling a message towards having a conversation gives an insight into a major event.

Here is an extract of what John Mack gets right:

How? By letting the patient in. Let them add their voices to your communications. How do you do this? First you must embrace the reality that people-to-people communications are more powerful than any DTC ad or unbranded education Web site.

And then a bit where it all goes a little pear-shaped.

And that by letting the patient have the venue to create a community or state an opinion facilitated by your company is the best way to channel the power of peer-to-peer communications.

Sadly, the two passages come from the very same paragraph. Surely all the image problems of gift pens and lunches for doctors aren’t simply going to be repeated in patient groups?

The beauty of blogging is that, unless you’re a corporate executive of the kind that thinks emails should be dictated to secretaries, you don’t need money or technical expertise.

All we want from drug firms is to allow their employees and bosses to tell us who they are, what they do, and how things are going. A bit like at a party. You can bring a bottle, but if you’re paying for all the drinks you’re not a guest.

The drug industry is feared, not trusted, upopular. Stopping the “we have a message for you” approach and engaging in a conversation is unlikely to make things worse for the drug industry in terms of public perception.

The only mistakes to be be made are: 1) to try to control the forum (which will fail and make things looks worse in the process) or 2) to have a script instead of just saying it as it is. The script gets out sooner or later and all those helpful comments in the margins from the coach “shake head solemnly,” “show more feeling here,” and “smile genially and wink,” will cost a lot more than the scriptwriter’s fees.

So “Customer Manages Relationship” is still a terribly clumsy term and it’s a concept with lots of things wrong with it.

But is it easier to move in the right direction from here? I think so.

Bird flu study and tips

January 25, 2007

Over on Outbreak H5N1 I write: 

The Public Library of Science has a study of the way in which avian influenza could spread globally, in the event that the limited human-to-human transmission becomes a pandemic.

Here are my conclusions and tips on what to do, for now:

That said, the important data from this study:
1) a vaccine is likely to take eight months to prepare from the moment the virus transmits rapidly from human-to-human;
2) strategies involving the deployment in early-affected regions or countries (if international co-operation doesn’t break down, which would neither be surprising nor entirely blameworthy) of antivirals like Tamiflu (oseltamivir), should slow down the spread of the virus by up to a year.

On an individual basis, locate a secure supply of antivirals now. You can expect public health authorities to use whatever powers they have to grab private supplies if a pandemic is announced. Keep an eye on this link, the World Health Organization’s pandemic alert bulletin. If it rises from 3 to 4, I shall buy an antiviral injection within the week.

Until then, I am keeping an eye out for new treatments and the spread of H5N1, but not worrying about it. Other than a few precautions if traveling to countries that are currently affected by bird flu, there is no cause for alarm at this time.

Lost in a new, uncontrolled and scary place? It makes sense to be scared, confused and disorientated.

December 11, 2006

I recently took part in a panel discussion about the future of corporate communications in the new media world. The feedback I got was that the people at the drug company* I spoke to liked what I had to say, because I started from the premises that: 1) in a new and uncontrolled environment of change, it is rational to be afraid, confused and hope it will all go away; 2) that there are things the new media can do that companies can use to their commercial benefit; and 3) that even the horrible bits like a “blogswarm,” to name but one, contain elements that can be embraced by firms if they themselves adopt some of the skills and tools of the much vaunted Web 2.0.

I’ve therefore decided to write up my thoughts on the future of drug industry communications in the hope that this will be of some use to me when giving (hopefully) more presentations and to others interested in the subject.

Comments are welcome.

* I haven’t signed a non-disclosure agreement with the U.S. drug firm, which is in the process of paying me an honorarium for taking two days in Philadelphia, plus my preparation time, but on the other hand I don’t feel like disclosing the content of what were private sessions of a global corporate communications get-together (which for the record was impressively organized and open to trying out ideas). So unless I hear from them that they’re happy for me to discuss the name I have no plans to do so.