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'Full Measure': Best money can buy

(Sinclair Broadcast Group)

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) - With the high cost of prescription drugs, a matter of current debate, pharmaceutical companies are hiring college academics to convince Congress the high prices are necessary. But these academics don't always disclose their company ties, according to Annie Waldman, who investigated for ProPublica and recently spoke with "Full Measure's" Sharyl Attkisson about her findings.

Waldman: "I'm looking at a new strategy at the pharmaceutical industry, which is, instead of paying off doctors or lobbying Congress, now the pharmaceutical industry is turning to academics in order to help them justify high drug prices."

Attkisson: "And when you say they're turning to academics, what exactly are they doing?"

Waldman: "They are hiring academics to do research which seems to support their end theory, which is that their drugs are highly valuable and therefore they should be able to set whatever price they want."

Attkisson: "The pharmaceutical companies you reported have mounted a PR blitz, touting, for example, new cures for Hepatitis C. Funny enough, I've seen new ads on TV that are urging all baby boomers to get tested for Hepatitis C."

Gilead Sciences ad: "Be sure to ask your doctor to get tested for Hep C. For us, it’s time to get tested. It’s the only way to know for sure."

Attkisson: "What do you think is behind that in terms of this affiliation you described with the pharmaceutical industry and academics?"

Waldman: "When the Hepatitis C cure came out, it was incredibly expensive, and the reason was because the, the first pharmaceutical company that released the cure wanted to set the price at the highest point that the market would bear. So, they started pushing and they pushed congressmen, they pushed academics, they pushed doctors in order to get everybody tested so that they would have to purchase the cure. However, our government can't afford to spend all this money to save everyone, so they started rationing the drugs."

Attkisson: "What's wrong with the pharmaceutical industry trying to convince the government that these are good products and what's wrong with them getting paid whatever the market will allow them to make for all that research and development that they've done?"

Waldman: "Well, we all want innovation. We all want cures. And in other countries, you look at any other industrialized nation, they allow the government to get involved with drug pricing. They allow the government to say, you know, is this really how much we want to spend on our drugs? But in the United States, we're the only industrialized country where we say, hey, drug companies, whatever you want, charge, and we'll, we'll spend it."

Attkisson: "In the broader sense, do pharmaceutical companies often make use of universities and academics to lend an air of neutrality to whatever it is they’re trying to push or publish or convince the government to do?"

Waldman: "Definitely. I mean, the relationship between industry and academia is not unusual. They're, they often collaborate in order to do research on drugs, in order to do drug testing, in order to even do economic reports. But the difference here is that if you have such a tight relationship with industry, there is a question of a potential for bias. There is a question of, you know, are you touting the industry's point of view or are you touting your non-biased academic point of view, and the public has the right to question that. The public has a right to know that."

Attkisson: "Would you go so far as to say some academics in colleges have almost put themselves up for sale for the use of the pharmaceutical industry?"

Waldman: "I would definitely say that some academics have put themselves up for sale. You know, there is a growing trend of academics for hire in our society right now. Where academics, you know, maybe they're not making enough money, maybe they're not getting the right funding, through their, through their university, and so they're turning to other sources and industry always welcomes academics. They always welcome academics who can lend that air of prestige to their work."

Attkisson: "What's the most egregious example you can think of, or what is an example of which you know is an inappropriate collaboration between the pharmaceutical industry and the academic world?"

Waldman: "I would have to say that one example that I focused on was that of these academics, many of whom are economists, who are justifying high drug prices through complicated academic models or complicated economic models. The reason why they’re doing this is that they believe that innovation should be funded at whatever cost. But then you have individuals like one woman I spoke with, Emily Scott in eastern Tennessee who contracted Hepatitis C through drug use, she can't afford the care. She can't get the care because essentially everybody’s talking about, well we have to fund innovation down the road. But it has a real impact on real humans across the United States."

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