Bitter pill for drugs firms

September 15, 1995

Topics that have traditionally "scared the hell" out of the pharmaceutical industry will be discussed next week at an international conference organised by the University of Wales, Cardiff, and University of Coimbra, Portugal.

The first International Conference on New Areas of Pharmaceutical Research in Oporto, Portugal, aims to persuade those involved in pharmaceutical development and clinical research that marketing a new drug is not the end but the beginning of developmental work.

Conference president Sam Salek, deputy director of the medicine research unit in Cardiff's Welsh School of Pharmacy, said the topics included the economics of drug use, particularly for chronic conditions, long-term monitoring of how a drug affected the patient's quality of life, and how drugs were used in different areas of a country.

"These are topics which have scared the hell out of the pharmaceutical industry and confronted them with uncertainties for the future, and as yet academic research has not been able to substantially reduce or alleviate these uncertainties," he said.

The majority of pharmaceutical companies had no clear mechanisms to deal with socioeconomic issues, especially while these straddled a range of academic disciplines from clinical pharmacology to economics - subjects that did not necessarily have a tradition of working together. Clear government guidelines were needed, and industry and higher education had a key role to play in helping draw these up.

One dilemma, said Dr Salek, was the Government's heavy promotion of "cheap prescribing", also an important issue for fundholding GPs responsible for their own budget. "Their interest lies with showing a reduction in drug expenditure at the end of a period," he said.

But cheap drugs were not necessarily the best drugs, and could have side-effects, ultimately leading to greater demands on health service resources than if more sophisticated drugs had been used initially.

Since the main object of any therapy was improving the patient's quality of life, there was a need for formal monitoring of the effects of drugs on individuals, Dr Salek said. "This needs to be incorporated as part of the routine clinical assessment of patients, alongside things like taking their blood pressure."

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