A multidisciplinary working party set up by the UK’s Royal College of Physicians (RCP) is gathering evidence in an effort to improve the tripartite relationship between the pharmaceutical industry, the National Health Service and academic medicine to the ultimate benefit of patients.

The working party, which is chaired by Dr Richard Horton, editor in chief of The Lancet, and includes representatives of the pharmaceutical industry, the medical and pharmaceutical professions, patients and lay people, was officially launched last month. Evidence-gathering is already underway and will continue until June 2008, with the aim of publishing a report on the initiative in November/December.

The working party’s declared objectives are to:

- Review the current and future conditions for, and barriers to, a “dynamic, productive, and sustainable” relationship between the NHS, academic medicine and the pharmaceutical industry. The end-goal is to “discover and deliver safe, effective, and affordable new medicines to patients based on need”.
- Identify policies that would promote such a relationship.
- Define the role of the RCP in advancing and strengthening this relationship.

In a request for written submissions, which are due by 31 March 2008, the working party notes that the Royal College has for a number of months “held informal meetings with representatives of the pharmaceutical industry and others to discuss how to enhance and support working relationships between doctors and the pharmaceutical industry in the UK”.

There are perceived barriers between industry, the NHS and academic medicine that “inhibit a truly dynamic and productive relationship between the key players, working in the best interests of patients”, it adds. “The Royal College of Physicians identified a need to look into this relationship and to examine in some detail the political, economic, commercial, organisational, professional and public barriers to creating an ideal relationship.”

The invitation to comment includes four key questions addressing these issues:

- What should be the nature of the ideal relationship between the pharmaceutical industry, the NHS, and academic medicine?
- What are the current political, economic, commercial, organisational, professional, and public barriers to creating this kind of relationship?
- What changes within industry, the NHS, research, undergraduate and postgraduate medical education, professional and pharmaceutical regulation, and the wider UK political environment would augment and protect the relationship you are describing?
- How can doctors – and specifically the Royal College of Physicians – help to advance an ethical and productive relationship between industry, the NHS, and academic medicine to improve the overall health of the UK population?

Details of the initiative can be found on the Royal College of Physicians’ website at www.rcplondon.ac.uk/wp/pharma.