Australian officials seek more info on Pfizer support program

Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration has fired off a missive to the Pharmacy Guild and Pfizer ($PFE) demanding an explanation about a support program in which pharmacists enroll patients who have been prescribed the pharma titan's products.

Under an agreement between the drugmaker and the guild, whenever a patient fills a prescription for one of 9 Pfizer drugs, that person's personal contact information is forwarded to the company, which pays $7 for each record. Pfizer then uses that info to communicate directly with patients about their medical conditions.

This arrangement has caused some consternation among Australian pharmacists, and now that nation's health regulators are concerned, too. It also has emerged there may be at least 18 similar programs through which pharmacists and healthcare providers are paid a fee by pharma firms to sign up patients, who then receive health messages from the drugmakers, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

A TGA spokeswoman said the agency wants Pfizer and the guild to ''urgently explain the circumstances of this commercial arrangement to see if any aspect of it breaches the Therapeutic Goods Act,'' the Morning Herald reports. The act bans the marketing of subsidized presciption medicines under Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to patients.

Pfizer Australia Managing Director John Latham has defended the program, denying it is a form of promotion or advertising. He has said it is merely to help patients adopt healthier lifestyles.  

- check out more from the Sydney Morning Herald