BRUSSELS: A quartet of pharma-ceutical colossi - Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Pfizer and Procter & Gamble - is to pilot a pan-European TV channel promoting product messages direct to consumers. The move is part of a concerted lobbying campaign to persuade European Union legislators to lift direct-to-consumer advertising restrictions.
Provisionally titled European Patient Information Channel, the project is endorsed by a number of influential patient groups, some of which are themselves funded by drug companies.
EPIC has been approved in principle by the European Patients' Forum - an umbrella organisation with indirect links to several pharma companies. The Forum is one of just two patient organisations represented on the working group formed by European Commission to consider changes in the present rules.
But other consumer bodies - unrepresented on the EPF - are opposed to the scheme, fearing its primary purpose is to maximize profits while minimizing the patient risk factor posed by their products.
The International Society of Drug Bulletins, a network of therapeutics bulletins and journals that are financially and intellectually independent of the pharma industry, warns that the latter is not a source of reliable and trustworthy data.
The society argues it is a mistake to mix advertising with information and is lobbying to limit the pharma industry's influence both on patients and prescribers.
Says ISDB: "Pharmaceutical companies' messages are focused on relatively few top sellers, exaggerating effects and concealing risks, confusing patients and putting pressure on doctors to prescribe drugs they would not use otherwise."
Pharma companies counter that the project would be beneficial to patients and doctors alike. According to Scott Ratzan of J&J, it will be self-regulating with a board of medical, pharmaceutical and patient representatives to adjudicate on complaints.
Ratzan says that the channel, which might be accessible via the internet as well as TV, will provide "on demand" information about drugs "to enable patients and citizens to make better decisions".
Data sourced from MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff