Angry Doctor

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Profits before Patients

I was planning to resume blogging only in November, but I thought I just had to draw my readers' attention to this news snippet.

Serono admits Aids drug charges

Swiss drugs maker Serono has admitted it was guilty of illegally promoting its Aids drug, Serostim, and has agreed to pay a $704m (£398m) settlement.

The payout relates to allegations that it offered kickbacks to doctors to write prescriptions for the drug to boost sagging sales.

The settlement was agreed with the US Justice Department.

Serostim is a US approved growth hormone used to treat muscle wasting in Aids patients.

Serostim was backed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulators in 1996 at about the same time the FDA approved protease inhibitor drugs.

Out of date

Protease inhibitors revolutionised treatment for HIV and Aids and made patients less prone to muscle wasting, and therefore less in need of drugs such as Serostim.

Four former Serono executives were indicted in April on charges of offering illegal payments to doctors for prescribing the drug. The company made more than $90m profit during the period of illegal promotion, the Justice Department said.

"Serono abused the system of testing and approval, and put its desire to sell more drugs above the interest of patients," said US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Serono Labs will be excluded from all federal health care programs for at least five years.

Similar cases

The Serono settlement is the latest in a series of 'whistleblower' claims that have cost major drug firms more than $3bn in recent years.

Last month, UK giant GlaxoSmithKline announced it would payout $150m to settle allegations that it overcharged the US government for two anti-nausea drugs.

Meanwhile, US federal and state officials are said to be probing 150 price and marketing fraud cases involving more than 500 drugs.

They bribed doctors to prescribe an unnecessary drug, and got away with a fine.

I bet they are now planning on how to recoup that 'loss' from patients.

It bothers me that they can destroy the trust between healthcare providers and patients and get away with a 'settlement'; they're not even guilty underthe law. But perhaps the judge knew that money was the only kind of pain they could feel. Even if you jailed a few executives, they were probably more easily replaced than a few hundred million dollars.

I hope you will remember this story the next time you see an advertisement featuring happy-looking people with a message telling you how much this drug or another had made life better for them, and how the company really cares for you.

Or, if you are a doctor, think about how the money that bought that 'free' pen or your sponsored lunch came from.

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  • Even more interesting in Singapore is that doctors are allowed to sell drugs from their clinics.

    Another potential for abuse?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At October 20, 2005 10:25 am  

  • Reminds me of the episode on Scrubs when Dr Cox met with the hot pharmaceutical lady.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At October 20, 2005 9:41 pm  

  • the pharmaceutical industry is one huge profit-making machine. there are probably more natural drugs out there that do the job better but because of patent law requirements, many of these natural substances are not made into drugs but the derivatives are (often with very much watered-down efficacy). for the drug companies, it's simple, no patent, no money, so why bother?
    The Brazil and South Africa experience with anti-HIV drugs are cases in point.

    By Blogger andrew, At October 21, 2005 10:45 am  

  • yeah..separate the prescribing role from the dispensing role!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At October 21, 2005 11:34 pm  

  • Just out of curiosity, is the extensive animal testing that goes on in labs today avoidable, or another example of shoddy ethics by the pharmaceutical industry?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At October 22, 2005 5:59 pm  

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