German drug data outfit slammed for potential privacy breach

A potential scandal has hit a German drug data company that sells prescription info to Big Pharma groups. A former employee of the company, Pharmafakt, told a German magazine that he was told by his bosses to help them supply drugmakers with script data that hadn't been scrubbed clean to make it anonymous, The Local newspaper in Germany reported.

The German press was abuzz about the allegation because dealing such data is a major no-no that breaches privacy rules, and one official told the magazine Der Spiegel that it "could be one of the biggest data scandals in the country in the medical field." The company's reported customer list features some of the biggest names in pharma including Pfizer ($PFE), Sanofi ($SNY) and Roche ($RHHBY). Drugmakers could use the data to learn which docs were writing scripts for certain meds, using the info to target their marketing efforts, The Local reported.

Privacy concerns have surfaced as drugmakers boost their reliance on data companies to shed light on how their drugs are used in the real world, and it's legal as long as personal information isn't included in the data. With their industry in turmoil, and amid efforts to make the most of their budgets, Big Pharma outfits have tapped external groups to mine data from prescriptions and electronic health records to help them understand the markets they serve and sharpen the drugmakers' marketing and R&D efforts.

Pharmafakt has denied any wrongdoing or that it was selling data with personal info to drug companies.

- see the report from The Local
- get the coverage from Der Spiegel (in German)