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DTC on the Agenda Again for the EU Parliament?

Direct to consumer advertising could be back on the agenda as the first European Parliament debate on patient information approaches.

The European Commission first proposed limited DTC promotion of medicines back in July 2001, but this was soon watered down to provision of information in the second draft a few months later.

The Commission's original proposals were made in the spirit of consumer power, and also recognised the contradiction in official sources of medicine information being very limited while many consumers regularly access unlimited information via the Internet.

The EC's current plans propose a three-year trial for the pharma industry to provide vetted information to patients with diabetes, HIV/AIDS and asthma. However, these plans been attacked as the first step towards US-style DTC, and are equally unloved by proponents of greater industry-patient communication. One MEP in favour of relaxing the rules, Jules Maaten, has now reawakened the debate by tabling an amendment to review the current ban.

Justifying his amendment to fellow members of the Environment Committee, Mr Maaten said: "The ban on advertising of prescription medicines should be reviewed to ensure it does not undermine the Treaty goal of improving public health, because it denies patients access to an important source of information concerning prescription medicines."

Many other Committee members are, however, opposed to any DTC promotion to patients. A number of members agree that there is a need for patients to be able to obtain information, but this should not come from pharma companies.

Alexander de Roo and Didier Rod tabled an amendment claiming: "Any kind of communication on diseases, therapeutic strategies and medicinal products coming from a pharmaceutical company is considered as advertising."

They criticised the proposed revision for playing with words like 'information', 'communication' and 'education'. They added that the EC's proposals are a "step towards DTC advertising of prescription medicines, nicely disguised as 'disease education'."

The UK Consumers' Association is one of several European consumer/patient groups adamant in its opposition to the proposals.

Wendy Garlick, Principal Policy Adviser at the Consumers' Association, said: "Although we recognise [the need for] information we don't think that DTCA is the answer, because of how it has ended up in the US and New Zealand."

Wendy says the CA supports more independent and transparent information, and has previously suggested the MCA hold vetted information for patients with pharma companies paying a levy towards producing the information. But there were no takers within the industry for such an arrangement.

In contrast, another EU-wide patient group, PatientView, found that a majority of European patient groups were in favour of allowing pharma companies to provide "significantly more prescription drug information," providing the process was closely regulated.

Keith Krzywicki, Chairman of the ABPI Informed Patient Initiative Task Force and President, Pharmacia UK, has led calls for an open debate on the merit of industry-produced information for patients.

The European Parliament is expected to vote on the issue in November as part of the wider proposed reforms of pharmaceutical legislation.

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