Every company has a worst case scenario. For airlines it’s a plane crash, for mining companies it’s a tunnel collapse and for pharmaceutical companies it’s a new drug causing life threatening side affects to trial participants. So it’s staggering that again and again companies faced with a crisis continue to operate an ineffectual crisis communications plan when the worst happens.
A UK drug trial ended in painful swelling and suffering for six of the eight participants on Monday. More specific details have unfolded through the media on a daily basis and today an exclusive TV interview with one of the volunteers was aired, revealing the harrowing scenes experienced by those taking part. In addition to damaging newspaper headlines, quotes such as "Some screamed out that their heads felt like they were going to explode" and "he looked like the Elephant Man" have been filling the tickers on the rolling news channels.
So what has been the response from TeGenero, the German manufacturer of the drug? Two statements, both made yesterday, both apologising for the event, both of which refer to the trial’s approval by the UK regulatory authority. Both TeGenero and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency have made a lackluster response to the incident. Neither have made a spokesman available for TV interviews, neither have fully explained what happened, neither have tried to give any context to the situation and both have suffered the consequences with this story being told almost solely from the perspective of the victims.
TeGenero’s corporate image has suffered a massive hit, however, the damage to the reputation of the UK’s drug testing system could have a far wider business impact. While there is always going to be an element of risk in developing pharmaceuticals, participants in drug trials must have a level of confidence and understanding of the safety implications. Without this confidence the necessary cash incentives will not be enough to supply the number of volunteers needed, which could have grave implications for the potentially life saving drugs currently under development.
Thanks to Carl Foster in Peppercom’s UK office for this post.