Friday, January 25, 2008

Transparency, Pharma Ethics, and the Blogosphere

“Transparency” is arguably the key political concept for the early 21st century. But I often feel that the term is used as a PC slogan, without any real content. Like putting “organic” or “green” onto a food label.

The uprising about potential insider trading in the Zetia/Vytorin story provides a vivid case study of how the abstract concept actually plays out on the ground. Here's how it unfolded in the last ten days:

January 14: Brandweek reported that Carrie Smith Cox, president of Schering-Plough, sold 900,000 shares of company stock before the ENHANCE trial scandal began to emerge. (I don’t know how Brandweek found out.)

January 16: CBS News Online picked up the story and put it out into the wider public.

January 16: Brandweek published comments said to come from an internal Schering-Plough message board about the stock sale, saying things like “she has disgraced the company” and “Carrie knew as did the rest of the ‘leaders’ of the company!! I was there when she was told [about the problems that led to a decline in stock price].”

January 22: John Dingell, chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, along with Bart Stupak, Chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, sent a letter demanding information from Schering-Plough and Merck, with the Cox sale as a prominent part.

January 22: Jacob Goldstein of the Wall Street Journal reports on the Dingell/Stupak letter and on a rapid decline in market share for Zetia and Vytorin.

January 24: Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, asks the SEC to investigate the stock sales.

Within the ten day period the insider trading story went from a squeak in the blogosphere to a roar from major media and the government. For Schering-Plough it must seem like David coming at them from one side and Goliath from the other.

That's transparency in action!

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