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Merck CEO Dick Clark told drug executives the pharmaceutical industry desperately needs to repair its current “trust deficit” with the public.

Over the past few years, the reputations of drug companies have gone further and further into the toilet as
drugs like Merck’s Vioxx and Pfizer’s Bextra have been pulled from the market and drugs like Celebrex have earned black box labels for serious safety threats; the widespread use of medical ghostwriters and fabricated clinical trials has come to light; companies from Forest to Pfizer have been discovered to be profiting from off-label marketing; and the extent of doctor perks from drug companies has begun to be disclosed.

The corporate leaders say the industry’s good works developing life-saving medicines have been unfairly overlooked in all the criticism. (…) As Clark noted, the association and member companies have been taking such steps as restricting gifts companies make to doctors, disclosing the payments that are made and agreeing to new guidelines for direct-to-consumer advertising that could improve their image. (…) Clark said pharmaceutical companies could help mend their images by recognizing the dire finances of many of consumers in this economy and making medicines more affordable. Industry support for a health-care system overhaul could also provide another boost, he said. –The Wall Street Journal.

Making drugs cheaper, while an absolutely necessary first step, is not enough to improve the reputations of drug companies, who have not simply disappointed but outraged the public so many times and in so many different ways lately that we’re not going to let them simply buy us off. And in the current climate of drug company overlordism, this “industry support for a health-care system overhaul” promises a future world of Merck Medical Centers more than a hope for an affordable (heaven forbid universal) American health care system.

Drug companies have a “trust deficit” because they’ve earned it. To earn back our trust, they need something more than a good public relations campaign. They need to get back to conducting honest research with real doctors, and to spending more on research and development than they do on marketing (currently, it’s the other way around). They need to stop marketing drugs for unapproved uses by the FDA, and to disclose all results of all legitimate clinical drug trials to the FDA, even if (and especially if) they’re negative. They need to not just restrict doctor gifts, but to ban them altogether. When all this is done, and the yearly profits from single drugs don’t climb into the billions, we can talk.

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