by Alastair Kent

In a bid to boost drug development, collaboration between the industry and healthcare professionals is intensifying. Financial disclosure will increase transparency, supporting this important shift and speeding patient access to new therapies, says Alastair Kent, Director of Genetic Alliance UK

alastair1As Director of Genetic Alliance UK, a body representing more than 150 patients’ groups, Alastair Kent was at one time a member of the European Medicines Agency’s Committee for Advanced Therapies (CAT), the specialist group set up to assess marketing applications for cell, gene and human tissue products.

He left the committee when the EMA brought in a new conflict of interest rule restricting the CAT’s relationship with industry. “I resigned because they were creating a system in which it was unreasonably difficult to talk to the people who understand what is going on in these sorts of advanced therapies,” Kent said.

Most such therapies are being developed by start-ups and SMEs with close relationships with patients and academics. “If, as the committee assessing these sorts of therapies, you can’t talk to the companies developing them, you don’t know what you are talking about,” Kent said.

In the interest of creating clear blue water and trying to avoid any sense of a conflict of interest, the EMA had engineered in a significant risk of the CAT being unable to interact to the people with the greatest knowledge and understanding of the products they were assessing.

For Kent, the bigger irony was that the EMA had no evidence of any conflicts of interest having arisen. “They created a system to solve a problem that didn’t exist. All this to respond to a public perception – as articulated by a few individuals – that the system was open to subversion,” he said.

Kent tell this story to highlight the importance that he attaches to allowing the exchange of information between the industry and healthcare professionals in the process of bringing new therapies to market. It is, he says, an essential element of ensuring the patient voice is heard and that patients’ opinions and preferences are taken into account in drug development.

For this reason he sees moves by the industry to disclose both the size of, and reason for, payments from pharma companies to healthcare specialists and organisations as being in the interest of patients. It will increase transparency and remove grounds for claims that the industry/clinician relationship is inappropriate and allows pharma companies to exert undue influence.

Kent acknowledges that healthcare professionals may feel uncomfortable when details of payments are first made public, but he believes exploiting the information to cause embarrassment will be a short-lived minority sport. “It will be a one-day wonder,” he said.

After that, the register will highlight any undue influence but will attract little media attention.

The interchange between the industry and clinicians is becoming increasingly important in underpinning new collaborative models of drug discovery and development, and in moves to implement adaptive licensing rules that make new drugs available to patients as soon as possible. Disclosure of transfers of value will help to drive this change in approach.

This is not to say Kent thinks disclosure of payments will entirely dispel accusations that the pharma industry’s relationship with healthcare professionals is against the public interest. “There are some people who are implacably opposed to any payments, and indeed, any links. They are never going to be convinced,” he said.

 

Alastair Kent OBE is the Director of Genetic Alliance UK – the national charity of over 150 patient organisations, supporting all those affected by genetic conditions. Genetic Alliance UK’s mission is to promote the development of the scientific understanding of genetics and the part that genetic factors play in health and disease, and to see the speedy transfer of this new knowledge into improved services and support for patients.