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Chancellery allegedly ousted top pharma critic

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Chancellery allegedly ousted top pharma critic
Thorn in Big Pharma's side - Sawicki. Photo: DPA
12:23 CEST+02:00
The chancellery played an until-now secret role in removing Germany's top medicines examiner, whose departure from heading the country's drug watchdog prompted accusations of political interference, according to a new book.

Peter Sawicki was considered as independent-minded, critical of the faults he found in the pharma industry, and effective at going public with those criticisms, qualities which earned him enemies within the sector, and praise from elsewhere.

The election of the current government, with junior coalition partners the business-friendly Free Democrats, who made no secret of their support of the pharma industry in general, sparked immediate fears for Sawicki's future heading the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Healthcare, IQWiG.

The institute is commissioned by the government to investigate whether and how well new drugs and treatments work compared with what is already on offer.

It employs scientists to review clinical studies and make recommendations of what should be paid for by the statutory health system – decisions which can be hugely important for pharma companies.

Until now no proof of political interference has been uncovered, and the official line has always been that Sawicki's contract was not renewed after a number of irregularities were discovered concerning his expenses.

But many within the institute, as well as some politicians and many observers, suspected he had been effectively removed to please the pharma industry. His departure was announced in January, taking effect in September.

Now, Der Spiegel reports, a book by Ursel Sieber, a journalist with ARD television channel, claims a crucial phone call was made from the chancellery as early as June 2009 – even before the election which ushered in the new coalition.

The then head of the chancellery's healthcare policy section, Susanne Wald, called IQWiG in June to ask when Sawicki's contract expired.

The book – called Gesunder Zweifel, or "Healthy Doubts," claims she let it be known during the call that the chancellery would not tolerate his contract being extended early.

The phone call has not been denied by the chancellery, reports Der Spiegel, with a government spokesman saying, “staff from the chancellery regularly phone up responsible departments to inform themselves of the state of current topics.”

The book also exposes how in June 2009, the current Health Minister Philipp Rösler – then Lower Saxony Minister for Economics, Labour and Transport - worked with other state economics ministers and a crucial pharma lobby group to agree on a statement decrying IQWiG as counterproductive for the country.

The statement was agreed with the association of research-based pharma manufacturers, VfA, the book says, comparing what the lobbyists had suggested with what was issued by the politicians – which match almost exactly.

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