Setbacks from two sources

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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 their fans.

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 violent attack.

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 industry.

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.


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