“I do not think the questions are relevant to this occasion. Please check them with our external cooperation division.”
Such absurd response came from Kang Sung-sik, Country Medical Director and Internal Medicine Lead of Pfizer Korea, at a news conference hosted by the company on anti-smoking drug Champix in Seoul, Wednesday.
This reporter asked three questions to Pfizer Korea.
The first was whether Pfizer had any update about the online petition in Australia to put a suicide warning label on Champix.
Kang replied, “I do not know what happened in Australia. As the U.S. and Korean regulators removed the ‘black box’ warning on side effects, so did the Australians, too, I guess.”
In Australia in 2016, a mother, whose 22-year-old son killed himself eight days after Champix treatment, started an online petition to demand Pfizer put a suicide warning label on Champix. The petition garnered more than 49,000 signatures.
Earlier in the same year, Pfizer announced that Champix proved safety against mental disorders in a large-scale clinical study, EAGLES. The study results helped the U.S. and Korea decide to drop the suicide warning label. However, the petition in Australia began after the disclosure of EAGLES results.
I cannot understand how Pfizer’s executive, in charge of medical business in Korea, gives such unclear answer to a question about the serious safety concerns over the company’s medicine.
My second question was if Pfizer Korea had any plan to make a social contribution as it has reaped a considerable amount of profits from Champix sales on the back of the Korean government’s policy to support smoking cessation.
According to pharmaceutical market researcher IQVIA, Champix sold 64.9 billion won ($60.3 million) last year. The figure is more than 10 folds in four years from 6.3 billion won in 2014.
Industry observers mostly agree that Champix, which did not even have a product manager in the initial stage, was able to grow rapidly with policy benefits. I wanted to know what Pfizer Korea thought about it. If the company admits that Champix indeed enjoyed policy advantage, I also wanted to know whether the company had social contribution plans regarding smoking cessation, as Pfizer Korea has been emphasizing its corporate social responsibility.
The third question was whether Pfizer Korea was seeking a partner company for joint sales and marketing of Champix, as it is fighting a legal battle against local drugmakers over the substance patent of the anti-smoking drug.
Depending on the Patent Court’s decision, Pfizer’s domestic rivals might release Champix-targeting generic drugs or incrementally-modified drugs as early as the second half this year. The release of Champix generics can have a significant impact not only on the market’s dynamics but on patients who could get access to cheaper treatments.
I cannot understand why Pfizer Korea had to ignore these questions saying they were unrelated to the press conference.
If Pfizer Korea were to answer to questions only regarding “cardiovascular disease patients’ smoking cessation treatment or safety of Champix” as written in the card of invitation to the news conference, the company could have just tossed the press release instead of holding a press conference.
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