Friday, November 04, 2005

Novel drug discovery

Big Pharma's trade association, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, has finally gone all the way, commissioning a novel about mid east terrorists who plan to murder thousands of Americans by--are you ready?--poisoning drugs imported from Canada by US citizens fed up with obscene drug prices. It is no coincidence that PhRMA has also tried to convince state legislatures and Congress that this was a real risk. Some Lies are as Strange as Fiction.

The story came out in the LA Times last week (by-line Michael Hitzig and link via Medical Writing Blog. The vehicle was a tabloid publishing company with a shady history. Free lance writers were hired and put on a tight schedule:
The authors labored on a tight 45-day deadline to produce the book, titled "The Karasik Conspiracy." Spivak says that a PhRMA marketing executive sedulously monitored the work by phone, e-mail and in person, often ordering changes in plot, characterization and tone.

"She was intimately involved," says Spivak, who declined to identify the executive but made it clear that he regarded her input as lowbrow. She demanded that the terrorists be militant Muslims but that their motivation be greed, not politics. She insisted on lots of "frilly female stuff," Spivak says, "Harlequin Romance stuff" — but also that the book incorporate long polemical passages drawn from transcripts of congressional hearings. Spivak says he acceded to many of these demands because "PhRMA was the client." He adds that he had no doubt that the project was being followed by higher-ups at the lobbying group.
Apparently higher ups were following it and got cold feet. They offerred the publisher and writer $100,000 to keep their mouths shut, an offer that was refused.
PhRMA's management says it discovered the project belatedly and, appalled, pulled the plug. Ken Johnson, the group's senior vice president for communications, has called the project "a screwball idea" and "Looney Tunes" and tagged the marketing executive as a "renegade."

She was a "lower-level employee who acted without authority," he told me. He acknowledges that she had some "budgetary authority," but suggests that she abused it in this instance. He says that PhRMA is evaluating Barondess' consultancy contract and is "presently reviewing disciplinary options" for the hapless marketing exec.

He also indicates that he and his boss, former Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, who became PhRMA's president in January, know that the group has less than a sterling reputation. (The phrase he used is "quite a lot of baggage.") One of Tauzin's goals, he says, is "to turn the image around," implying that the book project didn't help.
Interesting. Too "Looney Tunes" for a bodice ripper, but not too crazy to feed to state legislators or Congress.

Quite a bit of baggage, indeed. I suggest Canadian customs inspect that baggage thoroughly, because there are illicit drugs in them. And the street price is mighty high.