Saturday, January 11, 2014

From ProPublica: There's Gold in Pharma Data

Thanks once again to Charles Ornstein at ProPublica:
--we're brought up to date on the big bucks generated by the firms like IMS Health called "prescription drug information intermediaries." Basically, these are the companies that (among other services) track physicians' prescribing and tell drug firms who's prescribing their products.

Without them, the drug rep approaching Dr. Jones would have no idea how much of what drugs he's prescribing. Dr. Jones could claim to be a heavy prescriber of the rep's product and the rep would never know if that was true or not. With firms like IMS, the rep probably knows not only every script Dr. Jones writes, but what brand of toothpaste he uses.

IMS was a publicly traded company until 2010, when it was bought for $5.2 billion by private equity groups. (Bloomberg recently guessed that the present value of the firm is $8 billion.) IMS recently filed to make a public stock offering, meaning that it once again had to go public with some of its financials.

As a result, here are some tidbits we now know:
  • IMS took in nearly $2B in the first 9 months of 2013
  • IMS claims its collection of data contains 85 percent of the world's prescriptions by sales revenue
  • IMS claims to process 45 billion health care transactions annually
  • All the top 100 global pharma and biotech firms are clients
  • IMS can provide general assessments of prescribing trends in 70 different countries, and detailed data about individual physician prescribing in 50 countries
  • IMS's total collection of data amounts to about 10 million gigabytes
Ornstein mentioned one irony in his article. When three states passed laws to limit the ability of these information intermediaries to collect individual physician prescribing data, the companies took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled in their favor on First Amendment grounds. Several media companies, including ProPublica, filed a legal brief supporting IMS and the other firms, because of their shared concern for First Amendment rights.

ProPublica then turned around and, for research on some of the stories it was doing, tried to buy individual prescriber data from IMS and other firms--who refused to sell those data at any price to the press. So much for the First Amendment, I suppose. No point in offending your best-paying clients.


Bernard Carroll said...

That final irony is notable: heads we win, tails you lose!

It puzzles me that pharmacists want to talk about being members of the clinical team, yet they are willing to sell their client level information to IMS. That strikes me as incompatible with clinical ethics. It's another example of wanting to have it both ways.

Bernard Carroll said...

Here is some pabulum from one of the bottom feeders:
She talks about how pharmacists can be members of the clinical team, but she glosses over the selling of patient level data. Where are the ethical codes?