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Editor's blog Tuesday 23 February 2010: Whoops pharma, and Lansley on PFI

Today is not a good news day for the pharmaceutical industry's reputation.

Whoops Reckitt Benckiser, who are facing an Office of Fair Trading investigation due to some shenanigans around the pricing of an on-patent brand of Gaviscon when the better-known older formula came off patent.

Whoops Astra Zeneca, who are paying %505 million to resolve a long-running trasnsfer pricing issue with HMRC.

And whoops GSK, whose tactics in defence of Avandia have vexed the US Senate's finance committee.

The reputational hit for the industry
Reputation matters - as the media and marketing spend of pharma companies shows. We are living in cynical times, and for three stories to hit on one day seems like more than carelessness. Brands are vulnerable to the public mood - and companies are brands, too.

The pharma industry has big vested interests - like any big business. And it is clearly ridiculous to expect big businesses to fail to maximise their opportunities for profit. That is what they are there to do.

Equally, this is where the siren voices calling for deregulation and smaller government are foolish. By any measure, the OFT, HMRC and the Senate committee on finance are 'big government'. These look like three examples of the agency of big government raising highly legitimate issues which affect taxpayers and citizens, where no individual consumer action could be effective.

There are some excellent people working in the pharma industry, with values of public service as strong as those of many public sector staff. I've been involved with projects that have had pharma industry med-ed sponsorship (which has always been declared in the end product, natch), and been very impressed by the people I worked with from the sponsor company. The ABPI Code is much tougher than it used to be.

Nor are other bits outside actual manufacturing companies blameless. Look at the recent Telegraph story about phrarmacists exporting scarce drugs to capitalise on the weakness of sterling. On the back of the Royal Surrey in Guildford's export activities, it doesn't add up to anyone in the drugs business covering themselves in too much glory.

Lansley on PFI - a love unfulfilled
Meanswhile, I find that I missed this story from last December.  How silly am I to have missed the fact that Shadow Health Spokesman Andrew Lansley is anti-PFI?

In his own words, “PFI, from the point of view of a major NHS trust, has never fulfilled their purposes. There has always been an issue in generating the capital needed, particularly at moment”.

I obviously also missed this from Shadow Chancellor George Osborne last year. D'oh!

Has anyone seen any details on how the Conservatives' non-PFI private finance would work?