Conflicts of Interest with Pharma Run Rampant Throughout Medical Industry

Conflicts of interest with the pharmaceutical industry that affect the way medicine is practiced need to be addressed and should be reported more often, according to a JAMA Internal Medicine report.

According to the researchers, one survey of nearly 300 patient advocacy groups with an average income of $300,000 found that two-thirds of the organizations reported receiving drug industry support. The average contribution from the pharmaceutical industry was $50,000, and 12 percent of the groups surveyed admitted that they received more than half of their support from the drug industry. Two of the 289 groups surveyed received 100 percent of their funding from the industry. Executives or former executives in the drug industry serve on the boards of about one-third of the organizations, according to the report.

Vinay Prasad, MD, a hematologist-oncologist at Oregon Health and Sciences University of Oregon, and his colleagues vetted nearly 650 twitter accounts belonging to U.S. oncologists and found that 80 percent had relationships with the pharmaceutical industry, and received a median of $1,600 in general contributions and $11,000 in research payments. He said that preliminary data suggests that a “sizeable percentage tweet about drugs made by companies they take money from.”

Another area where conflicts can potentially be concealed is in the comments submitted to federal agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Last year, when the CDC released draft recommendations on opioid prescribing, it received considerable pushback from the pharmaceutical industry, but none of the comments were required to include a disclosure regarding the relationship with the industry.

Some of the pharmaceutical companies that support patient advocacy programs with healthy contributions include Johnson & Johnson (the maker of Invokana, Risperdal, and Xarelto), Gilead Sciences (hepatitis C drugs Sovaldi and Harvoni), Valeant Pharmaceuticals (Wellbutrin XL and Renova), and Bristol-Myers Squibb (Abilify for treating schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and the blood thinner Eliquis).