Medical charities reject criticism over funding from drugs companies

Charities have hit back at suggestions by the chairman of the drugs watchdog NICE that they are in danger of becoming "beholden" to the pharmaceutical industry.

Sir Michael Rawlins, chairman of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, said in a speech last week that charities should be wary of pharmaceutical donations. He also said charities should question the prices charged by pharmaceutical companies for their products.

“Patient organisations need to think very carefully about why pharmaceutical companies are giving them money and they have to make sure they are not beholden to a pharmaceutical company,” he said. “I have yet to hear a patient organisation criticise a price of the drug. When they do that they will come into their own.”

But charities have fought back against the comments.

Breast cancer care, which last year joined calls to end the “postcode lottery” surrounding patient access to new breast cancer drug Herceptin, admitted it had accepted money from the drug’s manufacturer, Roche. However, a spokesperson said such donations only accounted for about one per cent of the charity’s income, and would never be used for campaigning.

“As with all charities, we have strict guidelines on what we would use money for, she said. “We use it for things like impartial patent information, but this is an area of funding that is constantly under review." She admitted the charity had not raised the issue of the cost of Herceptin with Roche, but agreed that the cost of drugs was an increasing concern. “Breast Cancer Care believes that the cost of drugs is becoming a major concerning factor in the treatment of cancer and must be addressed by all in the field,” she said.

The Alzheimer’s Society is currently involved in a judicial review of Nice’s decision to deny treatment to Alzheimer’s patients in the early stage of the disease. The court action has been brought in conjunction with the drug’s manufacturers, Eisai and Pfizer. A spokeswomn admitted the charity had previously accepted money from both companies, but echoed Breast Cancer Care’s claim that donations from drug companies only amounted to one per cent of the charity’s total income and would never be used to fund campaigns.

However, she added that charities could be more transparent about their sources of funding. “The sector could help itself because no one has anything to hide,” she said.

Simon Denegri, chief executive of the Association of Medical Research charities, agreed that medical charities needed to be “more transparent than they have been” about their partnerships with drug companies.

However, he added: “Partnerships have benefits in terms of education and information, as well as research for treatments. The assumption that they are inherently wrong is fundamentally misguided.”

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