Japan investigates drug firms which allegedly paid for cancer articles

Japan investigates drug firms which allegedly paid for cancer articles

The government has begun investigating articles carried in a magazine intended for cancer patients on suspicion some of the articles are actually advertisements for anticancer drugs. The Pharmaceutical Affairs Law bans advertising anticancer drugs.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry decided to investigate the magazine, as many of the articles favourably introduce certain products, and learned that pharmaceutical companies gave money to the publisher of the magazine.

The ministry plans to urge the pharmaceutical industry to introduce self-imposed rules to prevent similar cases from happening again.

The articles in question feature anticancer drugs and were carried in a monthly magazine that is available at bookstores. The magazine, which is aimed at cancer patients, says it sells 70,000 copies every month. In many of the articles, doctors and other specialists give the names of specific drugs and explain their effectiveness in fighting cancer.

Sources close to the publisher of the magazine said the publishing house received from ¥470,000 (S$5,700) to ¥570,000 per page for each article carried in the magazine from pharmaceutical companies selling the drugs. "Those articles were called 'tie-up articles,'" a person close to the company said. "Since the magazine's circulation figures stagnated, it needed around two such articles per monthly issue to make ends meet."

The publisher planned the articles and then approached pharmaceutical companies, the source said.

The Yomiuri Shimbun interviewed the pharmaceutical companies, with five of them admitting to paying from ¥1.9 million to more than ¥5.5 million to the publisher for articles carried in 2010 and 2011. The total payments by the five companies came to at least ¥13 million.

One company said it paid more than ¥40 million for 27 articles. Among the articles in question, at least nine were about anticancer drugs. Some of the articles covered medications in a drug category for which advertising is banned under a notice issued by the then Health and Welfare Ministry.

Meanwhile, doctors and university professors whom the publisher interviewed for the articles received a monetary reward ranging from several tens of thousands of yen to about ¥100,000. Many of them said they did not know pharmaceutical companies paid money for the articles.

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