The international PR firm Fleishman-Hillard, working with drug company money, is helping run a high-profile campaign to raise public awareness about blood clots in Australia.
The campaign, which appears to be run by a coalition of doctors, has generated headlines claiming blood clots are more deadly than AIDS, and articles suggesting drug injections for at-risk patients in hospitals could become mandatory, quoting a doctor saying “all patients should be given the prophylaxis.”
But a national expert on medicines, Professor Alasdair Millar has told Crikey that suggestions like these were extreme and could “cause more harm than good.”
It’s widely agreed many hospital patients could benefit from an expanded use of drugs to prevent serious clots. However there is also concern the drugs, which carry the rare but serious risk of bleeding, could be given inappropriately.
“There is a real danger these drugs will be given to patients who simply do not need them, and who cannot benefit from them, but are exposed to the risk of bleeding,” Millar says.
The campaign to promote wider use of drugs appears to be run by a “Coalition for Action”, but Crikey has discovered PR firm Fleishman-Hillard is working closely with the coalition, with funds from the French giant Sanofi-Aventis, which markets a drug to treat and prevent clots.
The drug company declined to comment, but Sian Davis from Fleishman-Hilllard said the firm was helping the coalition with “logistics and the development of materials”. The firm is part of the Omnicom network of advertising and marketing agencies, which had revenues of $12.7 billion last year.
According to Fleishman’s website, they can help with “conditioning the market” for a company’s drug, can ensure “product messages reach the right people at the right time,” and can facilitate relationships with “third-party organisations” like the coalition fighting blood clots.
Crikey revealed in April that guidelines endorsing an increase in the use of drugs were being distributed in hospitals, without disclosing they had received Sanofi-Aventis support.
In Sydney last month the “Coalition for Action on VTE” (venous thromboelmolism) held a summit at a five-star hotel, to raise public awareness about blood clots, and released a report from Access Economics. Both the summit and report were part-funded by Sanofi-Aventis, a fact not revealed in the Access Economics report.
Confirming the drug company was one of the sponsors, Access Economics director, Lynne Pezzullo, told me no sponsor had any part in the report’s direction or findings. “Pharmaceutical companies don’t make atomic weapons,” she added, “they make medicines that continue to improve our health and wellbeing.”
The Chair of the working party which wrote the guidelines, commissioned the report, and initiated the summit, is John Fletcher, Professor of Surgery at the University of Sydney, who says more appropriate use of preventive drugs could reduce deaths, but cautioned that patients at low risk should not be targeted with drugs.
Asked whether sponsors’ names should be stated in sponsored materials like the guidelines and the Access Economics report, Professor Fletcher told Crikey that he thought they should. In response to questions about whether Fleishman-Hillard was working for Sanofi-Aventis, while at the same time being engaged in public relations activities for the coalition of doctors, Professor Fletcher said he did not know.