Have we left pharma out in the cold?

The contentious topic of the role in industry in research to strengthen health systems was the hot topic at this morning’s plenary session.

Bamako 2008 was billed as an opportunity for policymakers, researchers, industry and civil society organisations to get together for discussion, but representatives of pharmaceutical companies have been in short supply, as both speakers and participants.

And Merck’s Mark Feinberg may have wished he’d stayed away. His assertion that pharmaceutical and other sectors need to find more creative ways to collaborate and partner, and a reference to the sometimes adversarial nature of the relationship between such sectors was met with questions about the trustworthiness of big pharma.

Feinberg added that pharmaceutical companies have an important role to play in the research for health dialogue and presented numerous examples of where Merck has made a big difference by providing free or cheap drugs, while maintaining that the pharma industry has a very specific role to play.

But it was Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, who was more forceful. “Blind attack [of pharmaceutical companies] has no value,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s pharmaceutical companies that make drugs, not academics.”

A representative of the Global Forum for Health Research stated that within a year it will have provided a platform on which researchers, industry and civil society can communicate.

Katherine Nightingale, SciDev.Net

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