Big pharma has a PR problem. This was a topic of concern at ExL Pharma’s Digital Pharma conference last month.
Specifically discussed, were the lawsuits filed against AstraZenca concerning side effects from their antipsychotic, Seroquel. An article in the business section of The New York Times reported:
“AstraZeneca ‘buried’ unfavorable studies of its $4.4 billion blockbuster psychiatric drug Seroquel, according to internal documents released Friday in a legal dispute between the company and lawyers for thousands of people who sued the company because they said the drug caused diabetes and weight gain.”1
In an email message from 1997, one AstraZeneca official praised the company’s “Seroquel project physician” for minimizing the adverse findings. “Lisa [the Seroquel project physician] has done a great smoke and mirrors job,” he gushed.
Lawyers consequently suing AstraZenca stated that the connection between the antipsychotic and resulting diabetes were hushed up for nearly a decade.
Edward Blizzard, one of the lawyers, explained “AstraZeneca knew about the risk of weight gain and diabetes in 2000 and not only failed to warn physicians and patients but marketed in a way that represented there was no risk.”
Instead of “doing the right thing” and admitting their guilt, (and, one might add, removing the dangerous antipsychotics from the marketplace), the big drug company’s main concern was how they could “win back the trust of patients and consumers.” In other words, this has hurt them in the pocketbook.
At the EXL Pharma conference, a representative of MedAdNews asked Earl Whipple, the senior director of communications and new media for AstraZeneca, about the Seroquel lawsuits against AstraZeneca.
MedAdNews inquired, “How could a pharma company win back the trust of patients and consumers with such seemingly damning evidence of corporate perfidy [betrayal of trust]?”
Whipple’s answer? “By the overall actions of the company.”
Later, this same representative responded in her MedAdNews column:
“Guess what: That’s not working. Think about it, folks – when someone betrays you in some way (whether they meant to or not) and then showers you with attention and love but never acknowledges the betrayal in the first place, are you won over? If the burn is minor, you might forgive them in time, but the bigger the hurt, the more impossible it becomes to forgive. So when someone posts on Facebook or Twitter that a drug hurt them or a loved one, or points to seeming evidence of coverups, the carefully crafted corporate platitudes aren’t going to cut it. They’re not cutting it now. They will never cut it.”2
Yes, Big Pharma has a PR problem.