By David Woods ([email protected])

The theme of this year’s international ISPOR meeting – held on May 20–23 in Arlington, Virginia, USA – was “new tools, new audiences for health outcomes research.”

In his valedictory address, retiring ISPOR president Dr Michael Drummond told some of the 1600 registrants to the meeting that the organisation now has more than 3300 members in 80 countries. Forty nine percent of those come from the US and 35% from Europe, while industry accounts for 38% of the membership, he said, with healthcare research and academia each accounting for 28%.

This year’s meeting attracted 64 podium presentations and 524 posters. The organisation’s forward planning strategy – Impetus 2010 – includes research excellence, promoting education, reaching out to decision-makers, and international growth.

In a plenary session titled ‘How should the media convey information about new medical technologies?’ a former JAMA editor Drummond Rennie said that “while the drug industry does exceedingly good trials,” the press is often shrill in its Pharma bashing. Peter Littlejohns of NICE agreed, saying that the press too often sensationalises healthcare issues, takes a personalised angle, quotes from so-called experts, and often presents a negative slant.

Ex-national public radio journalist Snigda Prakash said that in the Vioxx case Merck had hidden adverse cardiovascular data, and, she said, an editor of the New England Journal of Medicine said he’d been ‘hoodwinked’ in connection with the journal’s Vioxx article. A pharmaceutical industry questioner from the floor noted that the media seldom report the great advantages of drugs and the good work done by the pharmaceutical industry. Ms. Prakash said the line between advertising and editorial has become blurred. And Dr. Rennie added that better ways need to be found to educate the public about adverse effects of drugs – a move that would also be helpful to the industry.

In a session on the economics of personalised medicine, a panellist defined this as “doctors customising medical care to a person’s genetic code for better diagnosis, more effective treatment and fewer side effects.” Another panellist spoke of raising the bar – the impact of heightened awareness of the need for health economics data in the absence of regulatory mandates. The managed-care revolution in the US created a demand for evidence-based formulary placement and the need to establish the value of a new medicine, said another. Applying evidence-based criteria to high technology, he said, if the answer is No to the questions of clinical effectiveness, safety, and improved value then the drug or the technology should not be adopted; if the answer is yes, and there is no comparable product, it should be adopted.

In a session on the relevance of cost-effectiveness information for clinicians, Dr. Alan Detsky said there’s a need to teach clinicians how to make decisions based upon rational thinking. Cost-effectiveness analysis is a linear programming technique developed to maximise good health outcomes, he said. Cost consequence analysis, he added, is the cost of the prescription, the cost of effects and the cost of side effects. Those doing such analyses may be biased, he said, and concluded “two economists debating is like watching the passive aggressive Olympics.”

In her inaugural address as ISPOR president, Diana L. Brixner, R.Ph, PhD, executive director of the University of Utah’s Pharmacotherapy Outcomes Research Center, said ISPOR “should glance back, reach outward, and press forward.” She noted the enormous growth, particularly internationally, of the organisation. Founding ISPOR Executive Director Marilyn Dix Smith, Ph.D., said the organisation’s revenue is more than $3 million with a net surplus of $700,000. She said she welcomes ideas for worthwhile projects for the organisation.

ISPOR’s flagship publication Value in Health attracted some 271 submissions in the past year, said its editor Dr Josephine Mauskopf… and the organisation’s website attracts some 1.5 million hits a month.

Next year’s international conference will be held in Toronto.