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Should big PR firms that represent drug companies also run scientific societies’ media operations?


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Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

Should big PR firms that represent drug companies also run scientific societies’ media operations?

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easl-logo.jpg?w=300&h=141There’s a brewing embargo story that is making me mad this week. I’ll say more about that in a bit. But in digging into it, I found what I think is a bigger story.

It turns out that Cohn & Wolfe, one of the world’s largest premier PR and communications firms, is running the press office at the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) conference that starts at the end of the month.

That made me curious.

It’s certainly understandable that a society that took press relations seriously but didn’t have the budget to hire a full-time press office staff would outsource. Plenty do, and there are groups that serve this function very well. One that comes to mind is RiceMason, which runs press operations for a number of UK and European scientific societies. Its principals — Emma Mason and Mary Rice — will be familiar to Embargo Watch readers because they’re always responsive to feedback and have even urged some societies to change their misguided policies.

But there’s a big difference between Cohn & Wolfe and RiceMason: One also represents drug companies with interests at scientific meetings, and one doesn’t.

I’m sure you can guess which is which, but here’s a hint. Cohn & Wolfe has won awards for campaigns they’ve run for Merck and Roche, both of which make hepatitis drugs. The firm doesn’t make its full client list public, but those are two clients I found on a list of awards it has won.

And this is not an anomaly. Cohn & Wolfe also handles press for the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) conference. They even won a Communique award for their work with that society (scroll down). Roche and Merck both make drugs for rheumatoid arthritis. So does Genzyme, whom Cohn & Wolfe represents.

Cohn & Wolfe is not the only such firm with this business line.Austria’s B&K promotes their conference media services while representing a large number of drug companies. Tonic Life was proud to have landed the ECCO cancer meeting contract (which they apparently no longer have), while representing a similar number of such companies.

This seems like a conflict of interest to me. A firm paid to promote a number of drug companies now runs the media operations of a meeting where research funded by those companies — or their competitors. Such companies are notorious for angling for press attention at meetings, setting up their own press conferences, for example, in violation of society peer review and other regulations. How can a company that represents them be expected to treat them as severely as they would others?

I haven’t seen this at any U.S. meetings yet. Does this happen in the US? The American Society of Hypertension meeting‘s PR was outsourced to Chamberlain, which represents Novartis — a company that makes blood pressure drugs, among others. But as far as I can tell, Chamberlain doesn’t have any drug companies for clients. [Paragraph updated at 3:30 p.m. Eastern, 3/9/11.]

I’ve asked the EASL secretary general for comment, and will update if I hear back. In the meantime, I’d like to hear from Embargo Watch readers. Is this kosher?

By the way, about the situation that’s making me mad: I’ve known about it since before others started writing about it, but I’ve been very careful not to say very much. That’s because the abstract in question is technically embargoed, even if it’s freely available to the public — and Wall Street, you’ll learn, if you read this story by Adam Feuerstein at TheStreet.com.

I’ll just say this: The society has acknowledged that this is a break, but says they won’t lift the embargo early. OK, I’ll say one more thing: That’s a dead-wrong, indefensible position, on at least two levels.

Please see an update with comment from the EASL Secretary-General.


Had a car accident in 85
Codeine was the pain med when I was release from hosp continuous use till 89
Given PROZAC by a specialist to help with nerve pain in my leg 89-90 not sure which year
Was not told a thing about it being a psych med thought it was a pain killer no info about psych side effects I went nuts had hallucinations. As I had a head injury and was diagnosed with a concussion in 85 I was sent to a head injury clinic in 1990 five years after the accident. I don't think they knew I had been on prozac I did not think it a big deal and never did finish the bottle of pills. I had tests of course lots of them. Was put into a pain clinic and given amitriptyline which stopped the withdrawal but had many side effects. But I could sleep something I had not done in a very long time the pain lessened. My mother got cancer in 94 they switched my meds to Zoloft to help deal with this pressure as I was her main care giver she died in 96. I stopped zoloft in 96 had withdrawal was put on paxil went nutty quit it ct put on resperidol quit it ct had withdrawal was put on Effexor... 2years later celexa was added 20mg then increased to 40mg huge personality change went wild. Did too fast taper off Celexa 05 as I felt unwell for a long time prior... quit Effexor 150mg ct 07 found ****** 8 months into withdrawal learned some things was banned from there in 08 have kept learning since. there is really not enough room here to put my history but I have a lot of opinions about a lot of things especially any of the drugs mentioned above.
One thing I would like to add here is this tidbit ALL OPIATES INCREASE SEROTONIN it is not a huge jump to being in chronic pain to being put on an ssri/snri and opiates will affect your antidepressants and your thinking.

As I do not update much I will put my quit date Nov. 17 2007 I quit Effexor cold turkey. 


There is a crack in everything ..That's how the light gets in :)

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