Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Big Pharma Allegedly Advocates Continuing Tenure of Spokesperson Who Admitted to Obstructing Justice

The Boston Globe reported on a conflict among the members of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council about whether to fire its president. The president was Thomas M Finneran, a former state legislator and Speaker of the Massachuetts House of Representatives. In a plea bargain, Finneran admitted guilt to obstruction of justice charges arising from his testimony during a civil lawsuit about legislative redistricting.

According to the Globe, here are the issues in the dispute about Finneran's tenure on the Biotechnology Council,

The debate over Finneran highlights a division in the state biotechnology industry. On one side stand a handful of large companies with products on the market and frequent business before Congress, which can influence drug regulation and pricing. On the other side are the hundreds of smaller companies, most without profits or approved products, which rely on the council for purchasing discounts, networking, and support for state-level issues such as zoning and research grants.

Executives of the smaller companies say that biotechnology values its reputation as a clean, research-driven industry, and are concerned that Finneran's felony could stain that image.

But large pharmaceutical companies, which need Congress to reauthorize key legislation on prescription-drug approvals this year, are concerned about alienating Finneran's friends in the Legislature and on Capitol Hill.

Of the 21 members on the council's board, four represent major pharmaceutical companies: Pfizer Inc., Novartis AG, Wyeth, and AstraZeneca. Representatives of those companies either could not be reached or would not comment on their votes last night. But a person close to one of the companies' board representatives said it was likely that three, and possibly all four, of the firms' representatives would support Finneran.

In our recent Health Wonk Review post, we cited a fellow blogger who commented on differing perceptions of the pharmaceutical industry among its executives and the public. Here is an example of what may be driving the public's (and physicians') skeptical perceptions about the industry. Doesn't advocating a confessed felon, and an obstructor of justice at that, to continue as a top industry spokesperson, as the Globe alleged, suggest a management approach that is badly ethically challenged?

Maybe pharmaceutical industry executives could convince people they are "well-meaning" if they at least were to restrict their spokespeople to those who have not been convicted of felonies.

ADDENDUM (1/11/2007) According again to the Boston Globe, Finneran has quit his job with the Biotechnology Council, and was promptly hired as a host on talk radio. He also was quoted that despite pleading guilty to obstruction of justice, when he looked back on his time served in the state legislature, he felt he "would not change a thing."


Fard Johnmar said...

Dr. Poses:

Thank you for including my article on the public vs. "insider" perceptions of the pharmaceutical industry. It appears that I have struck a nerve by describing executives in this sector as "well-meaning."

The study I cited showed that people in the industry believe they are much more ethical than the public believes. By saying that many people are well-meaning, I mean that many people in the industry believe they operate ethically. However, as I have pointed out on my blog and in other places, there are abuses that take place, which should and, in some cases, have been curbed. In addition, I have said that ethics and transparency will be watchwords for the healthcare industry as a whole in 2007 and that communications can help in this regard.

I think this issue warrants further discussion and I will be posting about it tomorrow on Envisioning 2.0. I appreciate the work you do on this blog, as it has given me lots to think (and write about).

Thanks again for reading and responding to posts on my blog.

Anonymous said...

Over thirty years ago in my undergraduate program I took a class taught by the sales manager of a local drug wholesaler. He made a number of points very clear.

One of the major points was: A salesperson believes what they are saying is true at the time they are saying it. This means a salesperson can look you in the eye, make the most outlandish statement, and then defend this statement.

A second point is: The drug industry, at all levels, is made up of salespeople.

We then moved on to money as a driver, since this is how people keep score.

Seeing a statement where drug industry executives feel they are ethical people serving the greater good only reinforces this break with reality. The people who make it to the top of this industry are either salespeople, or people who have adopted their persona.

When you look at the large salaries of these executives it also is easy to understand why they would support the current system. The only thing that will change their attachment to the current system is a major shift in their business model. Allowing this model to continue on the false hope that these executives will see the light, and that they are, well meaning will only continue the deceptive advertising and pharma's intrusion into the medical societies and ultimately patient lives.

Steve Lucas