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Author of The evidence, however, is clear, the Seroxat scandal
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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Andrew Witty: The Art of Deflection.

Sir Witty should have been a politician. Very adept at answering a question...with a question.

Here's a recent interview with Evan Davis, Presenter, Newsnight, BBC

Skip to 29.40. Transcript for this section is below video.

Transcript. 29.40

Evan Davis
I'm going to open it to the floor in a second, because we do want to leave half the session for the audience to ask questions. I'll just finish with kind of a general reflection, because it is interesting, and it's nice when you talk about the drugs and what they cure, what the treatments are. Don't you find it very interesting that the pharmaceutical industry has a bad reputation? We read about the China corruption, we read about profits, we read about profiteering. It is an industry that saves lives, no one can dispute that. It's an industry that produces pills that are completely transforming for people's welfare. Yet, it's actually not a terribly popular industry. I just wonder if you can explain that paradox. Is it that you've done bad things and that's been recognized, or is there somehow something the public don't understand about the industry that makes them feel negative about it? Or am I wrong in thinking there's a slight [indiscernible] around it?

Andrew Witty
No, clearly – first of all, I think we are, slightly alongside any big industry, or any big institution, there is a bit of that. We are big companies, we're global. Again, like any big organization, you're vulnerable to your weakest link in the organization. So if something goes wrong, particularly in today's social media world – I often think about what it must have been like to run a global company in the 1970s, where you had to wait for the ship to arrive to find out what happened on the other side of the world. Today, the Wall Street Journal calls you before you've even heard about something inside your own company. So I do think there is a certain phenomena where – and you see that across many, you look at it in politics, you look at it in newspapers. The hacking stories, all things like that. So I think it's a bit of that. I do think – let's be honest, nobody wakes up in the morning hoping that they're going to need a drug from GSK. You don't wake up in the morning thinking, actually, if it's a really good day, I might be diagnosed to be ill and I might need a drug. So we're not aspirational in that sense. So you start by saying, actually, I've got some bad news, because I've been told I'm not very well. They then said: we might have some good news, because there's something we can help you with. Then in some countries, I have to pay for it. Or in Britain, you might go to the doctor and they say: actually, I'd like to give you this, but NICE have said I can't. So then there's a whole series of reasonably negative concepts around pricing. So there's a bit of that. Then you've got – actually, we do occasionally make mistakes. Things go wrong. We have inevitably – of course, we go through all the processes with the regulators to get a drug to be as safe and effective as it can possibly be. But the reality is, every time a human takes a drug, it's like a clinical trial. You don't really know what's going to happen. Everybody can react a different way. So on the one hand, what is the story of the drug industry? The story of the drug industry is wonder drugs. On the other hand, it's danger drugs. Those are the two extremes that we have. It's kind of unavoidable.

Evan Davis
But you're saying there are bad apples, and it goes wrong. Is that right, or is it – for example, in the China case. Was it that there was a bad apple and it went wrong, or was it that that was normal behaviour in certain markets, and it just got called out in that particular case?

Andrew Witty
For obvious reasons, I'm not going to get into all the details of that.

Evan Davis
Was that behaviour actually something, or was it just a slight extension of behaviour that is normal?

Andrew Witty
I think the bigger question is, where do you want to go forward?

Evan Davis
No, but just answer that one.

Andrew Witty
There's no doubt, if you ask the more general question – so there have been concerns over the years of, is the drug industry transparent enough? What's the relationship of the drug industry with doctors? All of those are kind of concerns – let's call them concerns or reasons for anxiety, whatever they are. Sometimes they've spiked up into real issues. What we've really tried to do, and we're beginning to see some other companies, I think, following a similar direction, is we've said: you know what? We get that. We get that transparency is a cause of concern. People are worried that something is being hidden. We didn't think there was but people – perception is everything, right? So what did we do? We came out and said: we will publish every single bit of clinical data we have in the company. We are the only company to do that at this point. Every single thing. If a researcher wants to know exactly what the data was on patient number – all anonymized, but on Patient 1002, in Clinical Trial 87, from 2002, we will give them that information. All the way through, we'll do that. We've said we will stop all payments to physicians to speak on behalf of the company. It's a perfectly legal practice, everything the company has done – but we stopped it all.

Evan Davis
But this is a recognition – there is a lot you've done to present these things differently. But it is a recognition that it was pretty dysfunctional before, isn't it? Because publishing data, to me, honestly, doesn't seem like a great achievement. It just seems to me that that's what you should be doing with data. Not bribing doctors seems like a thing you would do.

Andrew Witty
I wouldn't say it's bribing doctors – it's perfectly legal to pay. If you went to a physician and said, would you expect to be paid for speaking on behalf of somebody, they will probably say yes. Actually, in most countries in the world, it's perfectly legal. However, there are risks it can be abused. People can make mistakes. And there are risks that there is a misperception. Just to your point on publication, do you think academics are mandated to publish their data? Do you think universities publish all their failed studies? They don't, but we do.

One box of chocolates for the first person to tell me how many times Witty deflects the questions put to him.


GSK were forced to be transparent, they didn't just decide one day that they were going to be the first pharmaceutical company to "open it's doors" (Halfway)

This from the Department of Justice/GSK agreement

"Among other things, the CIA also requires GSK to implement and maintain transparency in its research practices and publication policies and to follow specified policies in its contracts with various health care payors."


"Moving forward, GSK will be subject to stringent requirements under its corporate integrity agreement with HHS-OIG; this agreement is designed to increase accountability and transparency and prevent future fraud and abuse."

I think the bigger question is why did Witty fail to mention that his company were forced to be more transparent.

I'll leave the last words to Witty...

"It's a perfectly legal practice, everything the company has done..."

Bob Fiddaman.

Original video here.

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