Pharmaceutical firms move to pre-empt political pasting

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The Independent Online

The pharmaceutical industry has attacked the chairman of a committee of MPs which next month begins the biggest review of the industry since the Government came to power.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, a trade body, is concerned that the MPs are planning a high-profile assault. It is particularly worried about chairman David Hinchcliffe's choice of independent advisers who, it says, are biased against the industry.

Vincent Lawton, the president of the ABPI, told The Independent on Sunday: "It remains a concern that the advice the Health Select Committee is getting ... may come from those with a longstanding record of negative criticism of the industry." This echoes concerns expressed privately by the big drugs companies in the UK.

The four independent advisers are Dr Joe Collier, Dr Charles Medawar, Dr John Abraham and Dr Harriet Scorer.

Dr Abraham is author of the book Science, Politics and the Pharmaceutical Industry: Controversy and Bias in Drug Regulation. Dr Collier, until recently an editor of The Drugs and Therapeutics Bulletin, published by the Consumers' Association, wrote in a review that the book was a "classic" which showed that "regulators in both countries [the UK and US] favour the industry".

Dr Charles Medawar is the director of Social Audit, part of the Public Interest Research Centre charity and author of the book Power and Dependence, which argues that "drug injury is often avoidable - and most of it can be traced to misconduct". It says the pharmaceutical industry is "excessively powerful and government dangerously secretive".

The advisers will play a central role in evaluating evidence submitted by drugs companies, the NHS and other interested groups. The Select Committee, which begins preliminary hearings on 9 September, is investigating the "influence of the pharmaceutical industry" and will make its recommendations to the Government early next year.

The ABPI wrote to Mr Hinchcliffe in June suggesting names of alternative advisers, but did not receive a reply.

Mr Hinchcliffe, who is standing down as Labour MP for Wakefield at the next general election, said the reaction from the ABPI was "premature".

"The industry is feeling sensitive before we have even started. We have top people. They may be occasionally critical of the industry, but that is not necessarily a bad thing."

He said he had specifically appointed Dr Scorer, known for being less critical of the industry, to ensure a balance. Asked whether he would use the review to attack the industry and retire from politics with "all guns blazing", he said: "My guns have been blazing for years."