From 2012 to 2016 the drug industry donated £57.3 million to UK patient organisations, with priority given to a small number of organisations focused on “commercially high-profile conditions”, reveals an analysis published in the BMJ.
Using payment disclosures published on company and patient organisation websites as well as charity regulator records, the authors found that during the period, industry provided 4,572 payments to 508 UK patient organisations.
For the 21 companies that disclosed funding information consistently over the five years, the number of payments increased slightly from 738 to 772, but the value of the payments increased substantially, from £7.6 million to £10.8 million.
A few companies dominated the funding landscape. The top funding priority was supporting patient organisations' public involvement, including "advocacy, campaigning, and disease awareness", "communication" and "policy engagement", which together attracted £17.9 million (31.2%). This was followed by support for engagement in research activities, which attracted £14 million (24.6%) of funding.
In contrast, "support for patients" attracted £3.4 million (5.9%) and "organisational maintenance and development" attracted £1.6 million (2.8%) in funding.
When funding was assessed by 30 condition areas, the authors report that funding priority was given to “commercially high-profile conditions” and within each condition, funding hierarchy also reflected the industry’s commercial interests.
The authors say structural solutions are required to address the risks posed by the concentration of industry funding. They suggest a shared corporate funding pool, detached from current commercial objectives and also propose a searchable publicly available database of industry payments to patient organisations. Solutions could be modelled on the Disclosure UK initiative, which has covered industry payments to healthcare professionals and organisations since 2015, they say.