Drugs body code of practice would ban members having industry links

Members of the UK’s drugs regulatory agency would be barred from
having interests in the pharmaceutical industry under new rules
proposed last week.

A draft code of practice for the chair and members of the Medicines
and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) would bar them
from positions that could conflict with their duty to protect the

Under the code, the MHRA would also have two lay representatives on
its committee as well as patient representatives on all expert
advisory groups.

Mental health charity Mind welcomed the move. Its chief executive,
Richard Brook, resigned from the MHRA earlier this year over
concerns about undue drug company influence on antidepressant

Brook said: “It is worth asking whether any of this would have come
about without the huge amount of public pressure and negative
publicity around drugs companies’ inappropriate behaviour with
regards the aggressive promotion of certain antidepressants.”

Meanwhile, a marketing strategy to double the sales of the
antidepressant Seroxat has been passed to MPs who are scrutinising
the influence of the drugs industry.

The GlaxoSmithKline document lays bare plans to market the drug to
medical conditions other than clinical depression, such as social
anxiety disorders.

Brook, who passed the document to the House of Commons health
select committee, said it presented a “biased” view of the drug’s

For instance, the short time it takes for the drug to clear from
the bloodstream is presented as an advantage. “It isn’t, it leads
to a more severe withdrawal,” said Brook. “This is about sales
rather than medical care.”

At a health committee hearing last week, a representative from the
Royal College of Psychiatrists said it was embarrassed at the
revelation that it had taken £130,000 from the pharmaceutical
industry for its Defeat Depression campaign.

Industry-sponsored “disease awareness” campaigns have been
criticised by witnesses to the committee as covert marketing tools
to boost drug sales.

Dr Tim Kendall, deputy director of the college research unit, told
MPs its current president did not support such industry funding.

But college members were divided on the influence of the industry,
he said. “Some are very opposed to using drug company money, others
exploit it quite openly.”

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