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Mapping corporate influence in the pharmaceutical sector

The pharmaceutical industry engages in systematic efforts to shape and influence knowledge and perceptions, the authors of a recent scoping review claim. Their review covers 37 scientific papers that examined internal company documents – usually disclosed during lawsuits – to probe corporate strategy, influence and potential conflicts of interest.


The authors aimed to create a comprehensive framework for mapping corporate influence and identifying conflicts of interest in the pharmaceutical sector and beyond.


They claim that their review shows that corporate influence on clinical research and clinical practice is pervasive.


Eight industry strategies


The paper identifies eight distinct types of “ghost-management” strategies. Among these, scientific capture and professional capture were most widely discussed in the literature:


  • Scientific capture (n=28 publications)

  • Professional capture (n=16)

  • Regulatory capture (n=6)

  • Market capture (n=4)

  • Civil society capture (n=4)

  • Media capture (n=3)

  • Technological capture (n=2)

  • Other (n=2)


Frequently discussed form of capture


Scientific capture refers to the manipulation of scientific research and data by pharmaceutical companies to serve their interests. Subcategories include nondisclosure and selective reporting of clinical trial results, downplaying negative trial results, bias in trial design, and conflicts of interest in research. The authors found a total of 28 scientific papers that used internal company documents to explore these dynamics.


Professional capture refers to pharmaceutical companies attempting to influence health care professionals. Publications classified in the professional capture category discussed documents related to promotional meetings, off-label promotion, seeding trials, clinical education, advertising to healthcare professionals, conflicts of interest in clinical practice guidelines, gifts, and bribes.


Regulatory capture occurs when pharmaceutical companies exert influence over regulatory agencies responsible for drug approval and oversight. Regulatory capture articles discussed issues uncovered in internal industry documents related to lobbying, self-regulation, regulators’ conflicts of interest, and revolving doors between regulatory agencies and pharmaceutical companies.


Market capture refers to the strategies employed by pharmaceutical companies to control and dominate specific markets. This category included articles examining internal documents related to market concentration, chargeback, reimbursement, and unlawful commerce.


Civil society capture refers to the influence exerted by pharmaceutical companies on nonprofit organisations and patient advocacy groups.


Methodology


The study focused solely on peer-reviewed journal articles that analyzed internal documents of pharmaceutical corporations.


Using a comprehensive scoping review methodology, the researchers conducted searches in six databases: PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science, CINAHL, Business Source Complete, and PAIS. Researchers utilized a keyword search as well as a purposive snowball sampling method to extract additional relevant case studies and articles from reference lists of identified papers, and subsequently analyzed the content of the literature.


The scoping review examined 37 peer-reviewed papers. These publications were often based on information found in the Drug Industry Document Archive (DIDA) and the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER).


The review was published open access and is available online. The workbook used by the researchers is also available online for data review and study replication.



The blog above was written by Sophie Guzikowski, who is completing an MSc in International Health Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She previously worked in clinical research, and is currently doing an internship with TranspariMED’s nonprofit partner organization Concilium Scientific.


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