April 19, 2007
The AstraZeneca Scandal Comes To TV
Ever since the 'bucket of money' affair erupted earlier this month, the mainstream media has largely sat on its hands, even though there has otherwise been intense coverage over the past few years of industry pricing and promotion. Other than a couple of stories in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the scandal has remained the exclusive province of a few blogs.
For those who might have missed it, here's a thumbnail recap: an AstraZeneca regional sales manager was fired 13 days ago after a few blogs posted an internal newsletter containing his crass comments that a doctor's office is like a 'big bucket of money.' Then, anonymous AZ employees began a whispering campaign by feeding a few bloggers, starting with whistleblower Peter Rost, info about alleged off-label marketing of a cancer drug.
For a week, AstraZeneca was silent, but last Friday was forced to reply to the blogs, after it became cleear the issue wasn't going away. And the response was revealing, not so much for what was said, but for the fact that a major drugmaker acknowledged scrutiny from something other than the traditional circle of journalists. For the first time, big pharma is coming to grips with this new reality, which is that blogs - those unrelenting, instananeous, spontaneous purveyors of fact, smarminess and occassional outrage - are watching their every move.
As this site indicated, there's no going back. And now television has picked up the story. CNBC's two-minute segment included the a shot of the newsletter and a visit to Mike Zubillaga's manicured McMansion in Kennett Square, Pa., although he wouldn't answer the door. (He was demur with Pharmalot last week, too). Moreover, the report underscored the ongoing concern over alleged illegal marketing practices that taint the industry's collective reputation. An updated segment is supposed to air on the cable channel later today.
Does this suggest the mainstream media isn't interested in such stories? Not at all. But this episode does suggest that traditional journalistic conventions are being challenged in following what is already a very competitive beat. Much as it has in the political world, the game is changing. And all sorts of people appear unprepared, especially big pharma.
You can watch the CNBC segment here.