New studies reveal how Big Pharma plays the system to secure lucrative funding deals in Central Europe

January 11, 2018, University of Bath
New studies reveal how Big Pharma plays the system to secure lucrative funding deals in Central Europe
Despite progress in some areas, transparency issues remain in Polish healthcare according to new research from our Department of Social & Policy Sciences. Credit: University of Bath

New research, from an international group of health policy experts led by the University of Bath (UK), reports a mixed picture of transparency in public decisions-making around new medicine approvals in Poland, one of Europe's largest pharmaceutical markets.

Despite a troubled relationship with the European Commission, Poland has been hailed as a leader in modernising its assessment systems in establishing whether new drugs represent good value for money and merit significant public investment.

Drawing on comprehensive analysis of over 330 scientific drug assessments, the new findings suggest that the Polish Agency for Health Technology Assessment has reached the 'gold' transparency standard set by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in England.

Surprisingly, the Polish Agency has even exceeded NICE in certain ways, such as providing details of the timing of assessment processes.

But, this is not a complete success story as there are still areas in which the Polish Agency significantly lags behind NICE. The research finds that scientific assessment reports include a high amount of redacted - or blacked out - information on drug prices, which prevents proper public scrutiny of decisions with huge financial consequences.

In addition, the Agency lacks transparency in disclosing potential conflicts of interest of its experts with multinational pharmaceutical giants. It is often unclear how many experts had financial ties to the industry, what their nature was and whether they were appropriately addressed.

The finding is supported by another piece of research, published last month, by the same research group. Based on over 100 interviews and thorough analysis of key policy documents, the study authors identify a 'Fire Exit' syndrome, where low-earning civil servants leave public organisations to take up highly paid jobs in the pharmaceutical sector. It also finds a pattern of Big Pharma co-opting medical experts working in an underfunded public healthcare sector using various incentives such as research funding.

The Polish Agency therefore struggles to access expertise which may not be perceived as biased by corporate interests. To make things worse, the Agency is exposed to strong pressure by patient organisations frequently reliant on pharmaceutical funding, in the absence of appropriate state grants.

Despite regulations being in place to govern conflicts of interest in the Polish context, this suggests these may in fact be counterproductive in that they could encourage attempts at establishing informal access to decision makers. Against a backdrop of widespread acceptance of industry influence on healthcare, it suggests health professionals would benefit from greater education about awareness of conflicts of interests, including at medical schools.

Lead author, Dr Piotr Ozieranski from the Department of Social & Policy Sciences, explains: "Our research suggests that despite the significant progress made in recent years, the assessment of medical technologies in Poland still has some way to go. Achieving full transparency regarding the nature and extent of potential conflicts of interests of medical experts is a key way of reassuring us, as members of the public, that decisions reached on funding of are based exclusively on the best possible independent, scientific evidence.

"This is important as in Poland both doctors and patients are exposed to powerful mechanisms of influence deployed by Big Pharma. Increased transparency is an important step in mitigating any undue influence.

"These findings suggest that more must be done to protect public health in Poland by being more open and transparent about potential conflicts of interest which could include through new education initiatives at medical schools."

The latest research builds on the previous work by showing how big pharma lobbies in Poland and in the West. It was funded via grants from the Department of Sociology and St Edmund's College, University of Cambridge.

Explore further: The drugs don't work

More information: Piotr Ozierański et al, Transparency in practice: Evidence from 'verification analyses' issued by the Polish Agency for Health Technology Assessment in 2012–2015, Health Economics, Policy and Law (2018). DOI: 10.1017/S1744133117000342

Related Stories

The drugs don't work

December 20, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—Drugs that do not represent value for money or are medically unproven may be increasingly reaching one of Europe's largest pharmaceutical markets, according to research undertaken by Cambridge sociologist ...

Opinion: More accountability needed in how drugs are priced and reimbursed

May 24, 2016
Approving new medicines that hit the market is the responsibility of the EU, but it is left up to individual member states to decide which ones they wish to subsidise. New prescription medicines can be very expensive and ...

The BMJ reveals hundreds of drug company deals that commissioning groups fail to declare

January 3, 2018
Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in England have accepted hundreds of payments from drug companies that they have not disclosed to patients and the public, reveals an investigation by The BMJ today.

Financial ties of medical journal editors should be disclosed: study

October 30, 2017
Approximately half of the editors of 52 prestigious medical journals received payments from the pharmaceutical and medical device industry in 2014. And only a fraction of these journals publish conflict-of-interest policies ...

Conflicts of interest plague the next international manual of mental disorders

March 13, 2012
There are concerns that the revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM—an internationally recognised classification of mental disorders produced by the American Psychiatric Association), scheduled ...

Recommended for you

Tongue-in-cheek Nobels honor nutritional analysis of cannibalism, roller-coaster kidney stones treatment

September 14, 2018
A nutritional analysis of cannibalism and treating kidney stones on roller-coasters were research projects honored by tongue-in-cheek awards at Harvard University Thursday, designed to make you laugh first, and think later.

Pediatric robot patient offers new level of realism for doctors in training

September 10, 2018
A team of researchers and engineers at Gaumard Scientific has unveiled a new robot that raises the bar on medical training devices. The robot, called HAL, has been made to look like a five-year-old male patient and offers ...

Why men say they've had more lifetime sexual partners than women

July 25, 2018
The disparity between the number of sexual partners reported by men and women can largely be explained by a tendency among men to report extreme numbers of partners, and to estimate rather than count their lifetime total, ...

Censors jump into action as China's latest vaccine scandal ignites

July 22, 2018
Chinese censors on Sunday deleted articles and postings about the vaccine industry as an online outcry over the country's latest vaccine scandal intensified.

Revenge of a forgotten medical 'genius'

June 30, 2018
It's not an uncommon fate for a pioneering scientist: languishing unrecognised in his time before dying in obscurity. But as his 200th birthday approaches, the life-saving work of a Hungarian obstetrician is finally getting ...

Yes, you can put too much chlorine in a pool

June 2, 2018
(HealthDay)—Before you take a dip in the pool this summer, be sure there's not too much chlorine in the water.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.