Recently, Croakey published A special investigation: probing behind the eye, in which Mark Ragg examined the close links between the pharmaceutical industry, some consumer health organisations and efforts to influence policy in a direction that suits pharma.
This week, the BMJ published Exposing drug industry funding of UK patient organisations, which documents similar close and not particularly transparent links between pharma and UK consumer health organisations.
The key findings of the research are that:
- From 2012 to 2016 the drug industry donated over £57m (about AUD$100m) to UK patient organisations, with the annual sum more than doubling over the period
- The funding benefited a small number of organisations and activities related to research and public involvement
- The industry gave priority to commercially high profile conditions
- Industry payment disclosures had limited transparency
Focus on public engagement
Most of the funding went to consumer organisations that had multiple roles, including policy and advocacy. Little went to consumer organisations that focused on patient support and/or representation.
Most of the funding was for consumer organisations’ engagement with outside audiences through ‘advocacy, campaigning and disease awareness’, ‘communication’ and ‘policy engagement’.
Most of the funding went to organisations associated with cancer or diabetes.
Most of the funding came from companies with new products, and went to organisations working on conditions associated with those new products.
The authors, from the University of Bath, UK, and University of Lund, Sweden, put it this way.
The emerging picture of industry funding shows that companies might seek to use some patient organisations as ‘third parties’ in reaching other audiences. Without necessarily determining the content of the funded activities, firms could shape the profiles of patient organisations through heavy investment in their external activities. This could then influence the public’s and policy makers’ perceptions, consistent with other industry marketing practices. Importantly, both tiers of the industry’s payment strategy have demonstrable effect on clinical ‘key opinion leaders’ (large payments) and prescribers (small payments).
The concentration of funding on certain types of organisations, activities, and conditions might reinforce inequalities between organisations with different budget sizes, advocacy potential, or representing conditions ascribed varying levels of social value. Furthermore, given the weakness of public funding, limited industry investment in patient organisations’ internal work, could affect their long term sustainability.
Nevertheless, following patterns identified elsewhere, financial relationships between many companies (especially non-big pharma) and patient organisations are sparse. In any case, answering questions about the extent of industry influence requires examining how open different patient organisations are to accepting funding or how much their priorities match those promoted by industry funding.”