Advocates lobbying for government coverage have pharma ties

by Leo Almazora05 Mar 2019

It should be no surprise when patient advocates campaign for a certain drug to be made more accessible, particularly through government funding. But a new analysis suggests that Canadian advocacy groups could be supporting other stakeholders’ interests.

“[A] new analysis finds a large majority of Canadian groups that submitted comments about pending government coverage for medicines also held conflicts with drug makers,” wrote StatNews contributor Ed Silverman, citing a paper recently published on PLOS One.

The paper, authored by Joel Lexchin of York University, covered a total of 222 reports for drug indications, with 372 submissions from 93 different patient groups over the past six years.

Among the comments, 87% were made by Canadian groups with conflicts of interest such as industry backing; of those, 86% involved a conflict with the medicine being reviewed by the Common Drug Review and panCanadian Oncology Drug Review.

Counting the comments on the medicines under consideration revealed that over 90% expressed positive views, of which only 30 submissions did not involve a conflict. Lexchin stressed that the numbers cannot show a causative relationship between pharmaceutical industry backing and any positive views that patient groups express in connection with government funding for medicines.

“My paper can only establish an association between funding of Canadian patient groups and the position that they take about whether drugs should be funded,” he said. “[But] we live in a world where direct cause-and-effect evidence is often hard to establish but where what evidence there is suggests that certain practices are harmful.”

To minimize the appearance of paid-for partiality, Lexchin suggested that patient advocacy groups should be more transparent when it comes to funding. He also said that groups should work on increasing their government-sourced funding so that they are less reliant on the industry.

Barry Stein, who heads Colorectal Cancer Canada, pushed back against the recommendations. According to StatNews, Stein said many groups “would have great difficulty existing” without industry assistance, and that backing is “fully declared” in conflict-of-interest forms that groups file with government agencies.

“While all patient groups wish that they could receive government funding to ease the challenges of running a patient organization, little if any exists in Canada,” he added. “Consequently, many patient groups are multi-funded by many different pharma and biotech companies, events, and corporate funding in addition general public donations.”

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