U.K. industry lobby group to write pro-pharma features with newspaper that berates it

In one of the strangest tie-ups in recent memory, the U.K.'s pharma trade group the ABPI has signed a major editorial deal with The Guardian newspaper to write two dozen features on why the industry is so great and how criticism against it is unjustified.

This is odd for a number of reasons, but predominately because The Guardian is a Left-leaning newspaper with a long history of an anticorporate culture, much of which is in fact directed against the pharma industry.

The newspaper hosted Dr. Ben Goldacre's (of Bad Pharma fame) Bad Science articles for many years, and headlines from its staff (notably Sarah Boseley) include "Big Pharma's worst nightmare," "Drug company's loss could be Africa's gain," "Protect the drug giants' patents--and harm the health of the poor?," "Pharma accused of restricting access to hep C drug in poor countries," "Unprecedented global campaign launches against pharma company," and a piece from an event I set up between the AllTrials' co-founder Dr. Goldacre and former head of the ABPI Stephen Whitehead: "AllTrials v the ABPI: a prescription for bad PR."

Former ABPI head Stephen Whitehead

In fact, the subhead for that very piece reads: "The chief executive of the ABPI, Stephen Whitehead, said last week that he would not respond to 'PR-driven initiatives' such as AllTrials, yet seems to ignore the PR-driven nature of his own industry,"--three years down the line, The Guardian now appears happy to actually help run its PR.  

These kind of negative stories have irked the ABPI and its Big Pharma members, who pay a fee at the top range of around £750,000 (the fee is based on a firm's market share), and want more to be done to market the good things it does.

The features, 12 of which will be written by the ABPI and the other 12 being written by Guardian journos, will be featured in the newspaper's online 'Partner's Zone' and the Healthcare Professionals Network--which is designed as a hub for HCPs but is increasingly becoming a vault of advertorials aimed at a key audience for healthcare firms.

Some of the early features coming from the ABPI include "Why pharma shouldn't be written off as yesterday's industry," and that old chestnut: "The price of health: the cost of developing new medicines."

The Guardian is increasingly turning to areas like the Partner's Zone to help it gain more advertising online as its print edition continues to struggle--and this comes in the same month that the U.K. daily newspaper The Independent announced that it will stop its print run entirely and move online to save costs--something reports suggest The Guardian may soon need to follow.

The ABPI has seen this as an opportunity and falls in line with the more bullish tone it has taken over the past 5 years to promote the industry, and although it is certainly no PhRMA, the change of direction has been notable.

The problem is of course that this does not actually deal with any of the major issues facing the industry in the U.K., such as drug pricing and how pharma comes up with its price tags (something the NICE chairman Prof. David Haslam has repeatedly asked to see), and why more is not being done to help stave off major pharma job cuts across the country.

Rehashing the same old lines on how much it costs to create a drug (a highly controversial figure that no-one seems to agree on, but which the ABPI always believes is around $2 billion) or how pharma saves lives and that everything it does it does for the patient, ad nauseam--all smacks of PR puffery, rather than a constructive debate. -- Ben Adams (email | Twitter)

- see the ABPI's release