In May 2006, the foundation convened a committee that found a lack of authoritative studies showing that such drug switches cause problems, says its chairman, Steven Schachter, a Harvard Medical School neurologist. Nonetheless, the foundation still recommended that docs give explicit approval for switches, citing anecdotal reports of seizures.
The foundation is lobbying hard in state legislatures to create exceptions for those pharmacy switches when it comes to generics for epilepsy. But members squawk at the perception they are shills for pharma. "These are people's lives that we're talking about - nothing about stock options and stock value and how this would affect [companies'] bottom line. That would be insulting to us to have discussions like that," Sindi Rosales, the head of a foundation affiliate in Texas, tells the paper.
But then there's an example in Georgia that undermines her protests, and is yet another example of how big pharma uses so-called patient-advocacy groups to camouflage its own motives....
The sponsor of a bill in Georgia, state Rep. Charlice Byrd, who says she was sympathetic because her mom had epilepsy, says a UCB official was the first person to raise the epilepsy-drug switching issue with her. The Belgian company makes the epilepsy drug Keppra.
Charlotte Thompson, who's the foundation's Georgia affiliate, says she became aware of the bill after hearing about it from UCB. "When we realized (Byrd) was introducing this and looked at it and studied what it was, then we jumped on the bandwagon," Thompson says. Six lobbyists for three companies joined a committee created by the foundation to work on it.
Byrd says several pharma lobbyists offered support, such as Abbott lobbyist Guy Mosier, who Byrd says, "was extremely helpful working with legislators to help them understand the importance and that this piece of legislation was strictly for patient protection." Mosier declined to comment.
Byrd introduced the bill in the Georgia House in January. At a Feb. 7 hearing of the House's health committee, Lasa Joiner, executive director of the Georgia Psychiatric Physicians Association, testified in support. Joiner was at the time also a Glaxo lobbyist, which she didn't mention at the hearing. In an interview, she says she didn't raise her tie to Glaxo because the company hadn't asked her to lobby for the bill.
Two days later, epilepsy patients and parents of patients visited lawmakers' offices to ask them to support the bill. The foundation's Thompson says pharma lobbyists accompanied the visitors. The bill passed the Georgia House in a 161-0 vote on Feb. 28, but it stalled in the Senate after groups representing pharmacists and generic-drug makers mounted heftier opposition to it in that chamber. Pharmacies often earn bigger profit margins on generics than on branded drugs.