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Money, Medications & COVID

By Donna Laframboise | Big Picture News | November 9, 2020

A 2003 analysis lists three ways in which doctors earn money from drug companies. Some are hired to conduct research. Some get paid for referring patients to clinical trials. Others are incentivized to write more prescriptions.

These incentives can take the form of annual consultant’s fees. Or speaker’s fees at drug company events. Or expense-paid conferences in exotic locales (travel), dinners at fancy restaurants, tickets to sporting events, and tickets to music concerts.

Research suggests even small gifts and small amounts of money affect physician behaviour to a surprising degree, and that most physicians believe their colleagues are influenced by drug company promotions.

Which brings us to COVID-19. A very public conflict has arisen between those who favour treating patients with inexpensive, off-patent drugs such as hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), and those who favour the use of expensive, proprietary drugs such as remdesivir/veklury, which is manufactured by Gilead Sciences.

A recent paper examines what 98 French professors/physicians who specialize in infectious diseases have said publicly about HCQ. Titled Influence of conflicts of interest on public positions in the COVID-19 era, the case of Gilead Sciences, it reports that 54 of these academics have taken no public position on HCQ. 14 others have remained carefully neutral.

Which leaves 30 more. 14 have said favourable or very favourable things about HCQ. 16 have said unfavourable or very unfavourable things.

In France, drug companies are required to report, via a government website, how much financial support they provide to doctors. This paper reveals a startling difference between pro- and anti-HCQ academics. Generally speaking, doctors who are more favourable toward HCQ take less money from Gilead Sciences. And vice versa.

The paper treats the 14 pro-HCQ academics as two sub-groups (favourable and very favourable), rather than as identifiable individuals. Some of these people had no financial links to Gilead Sciences over the past seven years (2013-2019). The most any individual benefited was to the tune of €4,773.

All 16 of the (likewise unidentified) anti-HCQ academics were financially linked to Gilead during the same time frame. Those who’ve made unfavourable public comments received, on average, €11,085 (with individual cases ranging from €234 to €31,731). Those who’ve made very unfavourable comments received, on average, €24,048 (with individual cases ranging from €122 to €52,812).

In France, the less financially connected to Gilead Sciences experts happen to be, the more likely they are to support the use of HCQ. The greater the financial connection to Gilead, the greater the hostility toward HCQ.

The ‘Results’ section of this paper further reports that, of the 98 academics studied, only 13 had no financial links whatsoever to Gilead. Four of those 13 have taken no public position on HCQ. One has remained neutral. The majority (62%) are pro-HCQ – with one being favourable, and seven being very favourable.

This study tells us nothing, of course, about the circumstances in which HCQ might be an effective COVID treatment. But it reminds us that governments rely on the judgment of fallible human beings. Even in the midst of a pandemic, when everyone should be trying hardest to think clearly, infectious disease experts are prone to multiple kinds of bias.

November 9, 2020 Posted by | Corruption, Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular | , , , | Leave a comment

Do you have hep C? Pharma hopes so

The sicker you get, the richer they become.

By Martha Rosenberg | Intrepid Report | October 13, 2017

The campaigns are everywhere. On ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX, Animal Planet, the Game Show Network and Syfy. In People, Popular Mechanics and Better Homes and Gardens magazines. On the radio and along subway lines. If you were born between 1945 and 1965, you could have hep C, screams Gilead Sciences, which makes the hep C drug Harvoni.

The campaign seeks to sound like a message from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention addressing public health. But the Hepatitis C “facts” resulting from an Internet search are paid searches from Pharma, not from public health agencies.

Is there new information that shows baby boomers are newly prone to Hep C? Why have we not heard from the “CDC” about this pressing public health threat until now? There is new information—sales information that Gilead Hep C drugs are “plummeting” and new markets are needed.

“Gilead’s hep C blockbusters are in freefall, and its pool of eligible patients has shrunk dramatically thanks to the success of its meds,” says FiercePharma. “If all baby boomers got tested for the virus, though? That could help stem the tide—and it’s exactly the move the company is recommending with its latest awareness push.” Just trying to help.

David Johnson, Gilead VP, U.S. sales and marketing for liver diseases, admits the shameless disease mongering.

“This has been a planned evolution of our disease awareness efforts, to reach a much broader audience once the pool of already diagnosed patients who often had advanced disease and were in need of curative therapy, had been treated,” he says. “This staged approach was also important to ensure healthcare providers were equipped to support patients asking to be tested, as even for primary care providers, this disease was not something that was high on their radar due to the lack of scientific advances in the past to treat the disease.”

Only a handful of drug classes have been advertised more aggressively than hep C drugs, reports Stat News—drugs for erectile dysfunction and psoriasis “that afflict far more patients in the United States” than hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C drugs weigh in at $1,000 a pill—$84,000 for a course of treatment—and have been sacking the taxpayer-funded budgets of state Medicaid programs. States have considered suing over the heisting of their dollars and a Senate committee has looked at the price gouging. “If Gilead’s approach is the future of how blockbuster drugs are launched in America, it’s going to cost billions and billions of dollars to treat just a fraction of patients in America,” said Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon.

Congress is aware of the profiteering. The Senate’s Special Committee on Aging released a 130-page report revealing how “four pharmaceutical companies have taken advantage of our health care system to enrich themselves and their executives, harming patients and taxpayers,” according to the New York Times’ Gretchen Morgenson.

The chairwoman of the committee, Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, and Claire McCaskill, a ranking member, Democrat from Missouri, say they have only begun to scratch the surface. They seek to “stop bad actors who are acquiring drugs that have been off-patent for decades and driving up their prices solely because they can,” they say.

Seeking to sell obscenely priced drugs paid for by the public’s dime to patients with no symptoms is bad enough. But the hep C meds are not even the wonder drugs they were billed as in the beginning. They were rolled out so fast to please Wall Street that Pharma did not know or care that patients with pre-existing, dormant hepatitis B infections could experience reactivation of the infections on the drugs and even die.

A year ago, the FDA found that 24 patients with pre-existing, dormant hepatitis B infections experienced reactivation of the infections while taking the hep C drugs. Two patients died and one required a liver transplant. The FDA promptly added boxed warnings on the hep C drug labels about the possible reactivation of hep B infections.

The Institute for Safe Medication Practices reported unintended liver effects with the aggressively marketed drugs. In one year, between June 2015 and June 2016, 165 people who took Sovaldi (an earlier drug) and Harvoni worldwide died, 524 had liver failure and 1,058 had severe liver injury. Could states have their money back?

Gilead’s unethical ads are halfway right. A terrible thing does happen if baby boomers don’t take its $1,000 a pill: Gilead makes no money.

Martha Rosenberg is a freelance journalist and the author of the highly acclaimed “Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health,” published by Prometheus Books.

October 15, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Deception | , , | Leave a comment