Why We Do Story on Champix
By Oh Young-jin
The reason why we are insisting on covering the side effects of Champix, Pfizer's smoking cessation drug, is not to penalize a multinational conglomerate on the basis of anti-globalization sentiment.
Rather, we believe in the market economy in general and, particularly, in a good business environment for corporations and individuals irrespective of their nationalities.
Besides, taking on Pfizer, the world's largest pharmaceutical firm, on the issues that affect its bottom line is a risky business, considering the great deal of resources at its disposal and an ability to release them at its target.
The motivation behind our effort is the issue of public health and our role of protecting it, however big the subject in question may be.
Our coverage about the side effects of Champix goes back to an article carried in our Sept. 10 printed edition under the headline, ``Pfizer Stands by Champix,'' with the kicker reading, ``Multinational Admits Inadequate Pre-Marketing Trials.''
The article was based on a telephone interview with its spokeswoman, dealing with a wide-range of issues from pre-marketing trials and reports of side effects from around the world to complaints from Korean users, among others.
My mobile phones were ringing after the article was posted online. A spokeswoman asked for the article to be removed at least from the Internet, saying that a lot of calls were made from Pfizer headquarters.
As editor responsible for the department that produced that article, I refused but offered to publish its letter to the editor through consultations with senior staff in the newsroom. This offer was made in good faith on the basis of my belief that the newspaper is like a market, reflecting, to its best ability, the stories of both sides.
The Pfizer spokeswoman didn't get back to me.
But then, a senior PR officer who works for Pfizer contacted me in an effort to bring the dispute to a mutually beneficial conclusion.
Then, it was conveyed to me that Pfizer was considering legal action against my newspaper, unless it carries a correction as enclosed in its legally binding notification. The document contained a virtual paragraph-by-paragraph rebuttal of the Sept. 10 article.
The requested correction claims that Champix underwent ``clinical trials under regulatory conditions, and was approved for marketing on the basis of trial data in 86 countries,'' adding that the U.S. Drug and Food Administration officially documented there was no direct cause and effect relationship between its drug and neuropsychiatric symptoms.
But the requested correction does not mention the FDA order to have it included on the list of ``black box'' items, its strongest warning to users and doctors who prescribe it.
It also fails to refer to the fact that a Korean man in his 60s killed himself after using it for a month in 2007 after it was first marketed here. Of course, Pfizer was right saying that there was no direct cause between Champix use and the suicide.
Pfizer also stops short of pointing out a growing number of complaints reported globally, or its reported side effects being monitored by the FDA and Korean authorities.
The list can go on, but I would rather stop here.
Above all, I believe in the good deeds Pfizer has done for the world. It mass-supplied penicillin for Allied troops during World War II, saving tens of thousands of people who would otherwise have perished on the battleground.
The world's largest pharmaceutical firm, more recently, is saving a great number of people from the brink of hopelessness, helping inter-spousal peace in many cases.
By comparison, the Champix episode can pale in importance, considering all its contributions to the cause of better health in the global village in which we live.
With Champix, Pfizer may be doing the world a greater service than disservice by providing smokers with the last pivotal push in the difficult task of kicking a bad habit.
But we reject the notion that the issue of human lives is a game of numbers in which the bigger always end up as winner, with the smaller sacrificed in the process. We strongly believe that the smaller group can be heard, and their rights guarded.
In this sense, I expect Pfizer to come up with ways of reconciling the two irreconcilable interests ― those of both victims and beneficiaries.
The best way is to make public the complaints of users, which Pfizer Korea says are being conveyed to the Korea Drug and Food Administration. In addition, it can disclose the results of any other data it may have related to Champix.
There are precedents in which drug makers have not been forthcoming with the side effects of their drugs, resulting in protracted legal battles that are sometimes accompanied by physical injury or, in some cases, death.
I hope that Pfizer, the industry's pacesetter, will not make such a mistake.