Like the vast majority of kids growing up in England, I was
obsessed with soccer. But during the 1980s and early 1990s, English soccer
teams—particularly the national team—were blighted by the hooligan behavior of
In truth, the vast majority were well-behaved, decent,
law-abiding folk who simply loved the game. I know, because I was one of them.
But the behavior of the violent minority quickly led to a
reputation—hooliganism became known in the '80s as “the English disease” and
all English soccer fans, good and bad, were tarred with the same brush.
The problem is, not only is it difficult to shake such a
reputation, but every little incident thereafter, however minor, is sucked up
by the media and blown all out of proportion. You could be forgiven for
thinking that if you attended a game, you would surely end up the victim of a
Similarly, images of relatively minor scuffles involving
fans would be cropped and edited to perfection, so that a few chants and a
couple of thrown chairs might look like a war zone.
I wanted desperately for this epidemic to disappear.
Throughout it, I genuinely believed that things might change, but seemingly
every week, the TV cameras would at some point swivel away from the beautiful
game toward the crowd, where the ugliness would erupt. And, each time, it
saddened me that my faith in soccer fans might have been misplaced.
Right now, I feel something similar about the pharmaceutical
I am writing this in the immediate aftershock of the Vytorin
quake. At its epicenter are not so much the results of a rather small and
isolated clinical trial, which indicate that Zetia does little to enhance the
effects of its off-patent bedfellow Zocor, but the allegations that these data,
however (in)significant were withheld for the best part of two years.
There is not a scenario in which this could ever look good,
especially in this industry of all industries. And while it may not be the
biggest scandal of our time, it certainly leaves me with that same, hollow
feeling I had about hooliganism in the '80s.
The vast majority of pharma employees are decent, ethical
folk, but a few bad decisions by a few poor-decision makers have, over the
years, given the industry an unwelcome reputation—one that is not only
difficult to shake, but that encourages unbalanced, often unwarranted, media
coverage. Sound familiar?
I know it won't be easy, but I would like to think this
industry can eventually turn around its negative image and regain the trust of
the media and the public—and there are numerous examples to show some of the progress that has been made in
the past couple of years.
So, why any pharmaceutical company would risk a scenario
that would attract this kind of coverage, especially post Vioxx, is beyond
comprehension. And each time there is a setback to pharma's efforts to regain
trust, it saddens me just a little that my faith in industry transparency might
have been ever-so-slightly misplaced.
MM&M Awards 2008
On a brighter note, The MM&M Awards 2008 program
launches this month. You have until May 30 to get your entries together, so
break out your genius and make this your year. See pages 38-39 for more
information. Good luck.