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pharmaceuticals: Rising Disquiet

Rising Disquiet Do consumer movements and people

Do consumer movements and people's pressure groups really affect change? Often in the last decades of the last century, it has seemed that what has appeared to be a movement in the right direction has dwindled and corporate might has reasserted itself. This is most obvious in the pharmaceutical sector, where by popular definition, social good is assumed to have comparatively greater weightage in the conduct of the industry. So the consumer movement has fought its direct battles in this sector. In most countries it has found unlikely friends: the health insurance sector worried about rising medical costs; country governments having to shell out increasing amounts for state health care and progressive elements of the medical and scientific community concerned by the industry's increasing lack of ethical concern in the race to develop new drugs.

It would, in this light, be easy enough to dismiss the remarks of Daniel Vasella, chairman and CEO of Novartis, a Swiss multinational, in London last month as a piece of usual public posturing of the pharmaceutical industry. Vasella pleaded with the industry to respond positively to the growing social disquiet over drug pricing, safety and access and pointed out that unless this happened "we will be at a disadvantage in every new law and regulation that comes up". It is likely that Vasella's caution is a studied, perhaps even somewhat desperate, response to the fact that globally the industry appears to be losing the battle for public support. The severe restrictions and punitive actions being taken by drug regulatory bodies in several countries have further aided this undoing of the industry's public face.

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