Medical Community Takes Steps To Prevent Pharmaceutical Industry Influence Amid Recent Criticism
Some major universities have begun to examine their policies on funds that they receive from pharmaceutical companies amid criticism from Senate Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the Wall Street Journal reports. The committee has contacted more than 20 universities -- such as Harvard, Stanford, Texas and Brown -- about potential undisclosed financial ties between university researchers and pharmaceutical companies that could result in conflicts of interest.
Grassley seeks to have NIH withdraw grants from universities that fail to disclose their financial ties to pharmaceutical companies. Grassley said, "Starting today, the NIH could send a signal that business as usual is over. ... The simple threat of losing prestigious and sizable NIH grants would force accurate financial disclosure." NIH Director Elias Zerhouni, who has questioned whether the agency has the authority to take such action, on Tuesday met with the committee staff to discuss the issue.
Jerome Kassirer, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, said, "Universities have been treading on dangerous ground with their increasingly complex financial ties to industry," adding, "They are worried that these things could ultimately affect their tax-free status" (Mundy, Wall Street Journal, 9/11).
Efforts To Limit Rx Industry Influence Examined
In related news, the AP/Houston Chronicle on Thursday examined how almost "every segment of the medical community is piling on the pharmaceutical industry these days, accusing drugmakers of deceiving the public, manipulating doctors and putting profits before patients."
According to the AP/Chronicle, a number of articles and editorials recently published in major medical journals "blast the industry," and a number of journals have begun "listing study authors' conflicts of interest." In addition, medical schools, teaching hospitals and physician groups have begun "changing rules to limit the influence of pharmaceutical sales reps," with "dozens of medical schools and medical specialty societies ... barring gifts to doctors and limiting their other financial ties to industry," the AP/Chronicle reports. Meanwhile, new guidelines for "how drugmakers and doctors should interact are coming from both industries," and, although "doctors say some abuses of the past have ended," the "industries' dealings remain fraught with potential conflict because the sectors depend on each other so much -- medicine on drugmakers' research dollars and drugmakers on the credibility researchers give them," according to the AP/Chronicle.
Catherine DeAngelis, editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, said, "The influence that the pharmaceutical companies, the for-profits, are having on every aspect of medicine ... is so blatant now you'd have to be deaf, blind and dumb not to see it," adding, "We have just allowed them to take over, and it's our fault, the whole medical community."
However, the AP/Chronicle reports, "no one is suggesting anything as drastic as cutting off industry funding for academic research on new drugs," as those "billions help pay lab and other expenses at virtually all U.S. teaching hospitals, medical schools and affiliated practices, while giving the drugs' developers the cachet of having big-name academic researchers running their studies."
Diane Bieri, general counsel for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said, "America's pharmaceutical companies devote many years and billions of dollars to researching and developing life-saving medicines," adding, "We will always face criticism and at times deserve it but our companies remain committed to listening to and learning from parties with divergent points of views" (Johnson, AP/Houston Chronicle, 9/11).