by Stephen Whitehead

The UK pharma industry has a proud heritage of discovering new medicines. It has not achieved this in isolation but in collaboration with healthcare professionals and this relationship must be preserved, says Stephen Whitehead

For the ABPI, the introduction of financial transparency is a major priority. “We believe that this is an important component in transforming the relationship between the healthcare professional community and the biopharmaceutical industry,” said Stephen Whitehead, Chief Executive Officer of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), welcoming representatives of the UK medical profession to a roundtable meeting held in London on 2 April to discuss the ABPI’s plans to implement the EFPIA’s new Disclosure Code [link to meeting report].

The ABPI is proud of the relationship it has with the medical profession, and of the contribution it makes both to improving treatments in areas such as HIV/AIDS and cancer, and in driving economic growth. The UK has the proud heritage of being the source of 25 percent of approved drugs. “The industry has not done this in isolation, but in collaboration researchers, clinicians and those in the front line in delivering care,” Mr Whitehead said.

Unlike other economically important industrial sectors, pharmaceutical companies do not have a direct relationship with the general public. Rather, information about its products is mediated by healthcare professionals.

This underlines the ABPI’s interest in strengthening and fostering the relationship. But more than that, the relationship is critical because healthcare professionals not only need “absolute understanding” of new drugs that are developed, but because to be safe and effective, new drugs must continue to be developed in a patient-centric way, Mr Whitehead told the roundtable.

Moving to a central searchable system

Over and above the need for public disclosure, financial transparency in the relationships between healthcare professionals and the pharmaceutical industry is essential to ensuring patients have confidence in the medicines they’re prescribed.

For the industry, the relationship with healthcare professionals does have a commercial context, underlining the need to be fully transparent. The ABPI has taken the early step of disclosing aggregate payments made by companies in 2012 and 2013. “Now we need full support and buy-in to move towards disclosing detailed individual information in a searchable way,” Mr Whitehead says.

Unless this move is welcomed by ardent critics of the industry, it will be pointless. “It must show which doctor received what, from whom, for what,” said Mr Whitehead.

The ABPI is setting up a centrally-hosted, searchable database to hold this information and wants to involve, consult and partner healthcare professionals on the implementation.

Stephen Whitehead is Chief Executive of the ABPI and is the chief advocate for the research-based industry in the UK. His career has centred on communications and policy and he is a regular speaker at industry and NHS conferences.