As I See It: Anti-corporation protests

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James G. Dickinson
James G. Dickinson

As the country heads into another winter of discontent and presidential election season, anti-corporation protests on Wall Street and beyond send a message that pharmaceutical marketers and regulators alike should ponder.

It is this: young voters want an end to the industry-government status quo. That could upset relationships which have evolved under cover for two decades.

“I want my government back!” read many placards in the New York crowd after 700 people were arrested for disorderliness. Another proclaimed: “I could lose my job for having a voice,” voicing frustration over diminished First Amendment rights.

This message challenges a complacent FDA/regulated industry coalition that strives to do business increasingly behind closed doors while citing improved transparency—to each other, but maybe not to those “disenfranchised” protesters. New HHS guidelines in September brought tighter controls on media access to internal happenings.

On the streets, the ruckus felt like the “Arab spring” as TV broadcasts promised the movement's fusion with labor-union discontent. And if FDA and its regulated industries feel immune to anger over such scourges as loss of health insurance and rising drug shortages, they may be in for a rude awakening.

Street demonstrations have shaken up FDA before. In October 1988, AIDS protesters shut down the agency's Rockville headquarters for several hours. Approval of AIDS drugs was duly expedited.

Since then, FDA and other federal agencies have insulated themselves from direct access due to “security” concerns—a process that might well have lost them some sensitivity to public concerns.

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