SCIENCE HURT BY DRUG FIRM MONEY,
By Lindsey Tanner
AP1 Nov. '00
Chicago -- A funny thing happened to Dr. Jerome Kassirer at a recent lecture
to medical students about financial conflicts of interest for doctors: It
turned out the free buffet was provided by a major drug company.
Kassirer had a blunt message: Medical schools and training programs "must
teach that there is no free lunch. No free dinner. Or textbooks. Or even a
From freebies for medical students to research funding that can taint study
results to the growing practice of marketing prescription drugs directly to
consumers, drug companies have a growing and sometimes unseemly influence on
doctors, according to articles, studies and editorials published Wednesday in
the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The relationship between research and industry appears to be under growing
scrutiny. The editor of the New England Journal of Medicine wrote an
extraordinary critique in May, saying science is being compromised by the
growing influence of industry money.
That same month, the harvard Medical School said it would not ease its
conflict of interest standards, considered the toughest in the nation, and
Dean Joseph B. Martin called for a national dialogue on the issue.
Most experts agree that research needs industry dollars. The top 10
pharmaceutical companies spent nearly $23 billion on clinical research last
year -- more than the nearly $18 billion provided by the National Institutes
of Health, said JAMA editor Dr. Catherine DeAngelis.
The problem arises when researchers have financial interests in companies
funding their work. DeAngelis said such research is lower in quality and more
likely to report findings favorable to the company.
One JAMA study outlines the dispute between Immune Response Corp. and UC-San
Francisco researchers who say the company tried to squelch their findings
suggesting that its vaccine-like AIDS treatment is ineffective.
Another study found that 7.6 percent of the faculty researchers at UCSF had
financial ties to their drug company sponsors last year. Most were short-term
speaking engagements or consulting agreements with small payments.
State and federal guidelines require researchers to disclose certain
financial ties, and a UCSF policy prohibits faculty involved in
industry-sponsored research from receiving any compensation from the company
during the study.
Elizabeth Boyd and Lisa Bero, with UCSF's Institute for Health Policy
Studies, said a campus committee "worked to accommodate all but the most
overtly conflicting relationships in the interest of encouraging its faculty,
and, presumably, encouraging future outside investment in the university."
The authors suggested that financial ties may be more prevalent at other
universities with less stringent policies.
A 1998 - 2000 study of 89 major universities found that only 17 - 19 percent
had specific limits or prohibitions on relationships with industry.
While most had conflict of interest policies, the policies were not as
effective because they didn't spell what is prohibited, the authors said.
Kassirer, a former New England Journal of Medicine editor, says many doctors
begin to feel entitled to pharmaceutical manyfacturers' largess in medical
school. He suggested that school administrators address the problem by
refusing drug company support of any events.
Dr. Jordan Cohen, president of the Association of American Medical Colleges,
announced last weekend that the group is forming a task force to investigate
conflicts of interest and reach a consensus of what types of relationships
with drug companies should be allowed.