Burson-Marsteller Offers Journalists Cash to Attend Drug Regulator's Hearing

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Burson-Marsteller (B-M) were keen to drum up some coverage of the appeal in June 2006 of their client, Jannsen-Cilag, against the decision by National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) to reject an application seeking approval for the use of the drug Eprex for treating chemotherapy-induced anaemia. Ahead of what was a public hearing, a B-M staffer sent an e-mail out to reporters stating "as it is possible that the hearing will take up most of the day, and we understand that your time is valuable, we are able to offer £200 (€293) if you wish to attend." [1] (Sub req'd)

The offer was first reported by Agence de Presse Medicale for Reuters Health which was told by B-M that its client was Ortho Biotech, the company that developed Eprex. BM told the agency that the payment simply reflected the likely duration of the hearing. (Ortho Biotech is part of Jannsen-Cilag which in turn is part of Johnson & Johnson ). The Chairman of NICE, Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, told Agence de Presse Medicale, described the offer as "entirely inappropriate." [2] (Sub req'd) A later media release stated "It is disappointing that a PR firm finds it necessary to offer financial incentives for journalists to attend NICE public appeal hearings." [3] (Sub req'd)

When PR Week picked up the story the following week CHECK, B-M's UK chief executive Per Heggenes was apologetic. "It was a total breach of policy – human error. It was not something the client knew about, and was a mistake by an individual. It shouldn’t have happened. The client is supportive. We have communicated to each journalist that this was not our policy, and have rectified it with NICE and apologised," he stated. [4] (Sub req'd).

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