Europe’s pharmaceutical companies will allow an independent authority to vet information provided to patients under a controversial proposal that would allow industry to communicate directly to consumers.
The compromise may break the deadlock on the directive, which was first unveiled by the EU executive in 2008. The proposal has since been shelved by EU member states amid concerns that companies could not be trusted to provide impartial information to the public.
Critics claim companies will be unable to draw the line between advertising and scientific information on their products.
Arthur Higgins, president of EFPIA, the pharma industry umbrella group, said it would agree to submit to a prior approval process all information it intends to publish online and in newspapers. The move is seen as an effort to remove remaining barriers to the introduction of the new rules.
The authorities could then decide whether data on how the medicine works, its side-effects and potential interaction with other therapies is purely factual. Information deemed to be akin to advertising or marketing literature would not be approved for publication.
Speaking at an event in the European Parliament hosted by French MEP Françoise Grossetête, Higgins said “high quality, non-promotional information on diseases and treatments” would allow patients to responsibility for their health.
“Patients need to be equipped to make informed choices about their condition and possible treatments. Such information should be available from a range of high-quality sources, including the industry,” he said.
Higgins expressed disappointment that health ministers had apparently put the plan on ice and urged MEPs to prevent the proposal from being “diluted or worse still dropped”.
The directive on information to patients has met with a mixed response from MEPs, but there are signs that the Parliament is more willing to embrace the proposal than ministers in EU member states.
Grossetête said MEPs should join with patient groups to form a united block against health ministers who have blocked the directive.
However, not all consumer and patient groups are supportive of the plan. BEUC, the European Consumers’ Organisation, branded it “advertising in disguise” when it was first published.