In the UK, the House of Commons Health Committee is to undertake a broad-ranging inquiry into the influence of the pharmaceutical industry on health policy, to look for conflicts between the need for new drugs and commercial interests, reports Phil Taylor.
Announcing the inquiry on 18 June, the Committee said the industry 'contributes substantially to the health of the nation and brings important benefits to the national economy'.
But striking the right balance between health and commercial objectives presents major challenges to health policymakers and administrators, drug regulators and clinicians, as well as to the industry itself, it went on.
"How these sometimes conflicting objectives are perceived and resolved has profound consequences for consumers, patients and public health," it added.
News of the probe comes after calls for the drug industry to make its disclosure policy for clinical trials more transparent . Last week, a group of top-tier journal editors formed a consortium to try to force pharmaceutical companies to contribute to a database of trials so that the results - positive or negative - will be firmly in the public domain.
Calls for the introduction of a registry comes after an ongoing investigation that claimed GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) suppressed negative results of trials that tested the safety and efficacy of Seroxat/Paxil (paroxetine), its leading antidepressant drug.
The lawsuit has been filed by Eliot Spitzer, the attorney-general of New York, who alleges that GSK 'misrepresented, concealed and otherwise failed to disclose to physicians' the negative results of four studies in children and adolescents.
GSK has already responded to the call by announcing today that it will publish the results of all its clinical trials on the Internet, ushering in what it claimed would be a 'new era of openness'.
The Health Committee's inquiry will focus on the role the industry plays in drug information and promotion; professional and patient education; regulatory review of drug safety and efficacy; and product evaluation, including assessments of value for money.
In doing so, it will examine the influence of the pharmaceutical industry on the National Health Service and the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), which provides guidance on drug use to the NHS.
The panel will also consider how the industry interacts with regulatory authorities and advisory and consultative bodies; prescribers, suppliers and providers of medicines; professional, academic and educational institutions; the (professional and lay) press and other media; and patients, consumers, the general public and representative bodies.
Organisations and individuals wishing to comment on the project should do so by 16 August, as evidence sessions are likely to start in September.