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I admit to being jaded with the way pharmaceutical medicine is practiced, and I tend to live by the aphorism, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean someone isn’t after you.” So when news items like these come to light, it just reaffirms my world view. *sigh*.

First on the Why-Am-I-Not-Surprised list is this report in the New York Times  that well over 15% of the teaching faculty at Harvard Medical School have financial ties to insurance companies. To wit:

“…no one disputes that many individual Harvard Medical faculty members receive tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars a year through industry consulting and speaking fees. Under the school’s disclosure rules, about 1,600 of 8,900 professors and lecturers have reported to the dean that they or a family member had a financial interest in a business related to their teaching, research or clinical care. The reports show 149 with financial ties to Pfizer and 130 with Merck.”

This doesn’t even include the range of other questionable ethical arrangements from non-cash gifts to faculty and students all the way to the $50,000 faculty prize awarded by Bristol-Myers Squibb and the $1 million scholarships given by Pfizer to medical students. Yes, that Pfizer, makers of the number one statin drug Lipitor, one of the drugs that is being heavily marketed for groups of people for which there is little evidence that it is helpful. (Read more from Dr.Rothfeld on cholesterol and statin drugs )

Now that these cozy arrangements have been brought to light, there is some movement to limit these relationships. Sen. Charles Grassley has called for a full disclosure of drug company payments to Harvard Med faculty members. And, the dean of the Medical School Dr. Jeffrey Flier (himself a former recipient of a $500,000 research grant from Bristol-Myers Squibb) has formed a committee to examine conflict-of-interest. But one can still wonder how objectivity can be maintained in the face of such influence.

So if we can’t trust objectivity in our teaching institutions, how about the “peer-reviewed” journals that our medical wisdom depends upon? It turns out that it is a practice for drug companies to hire “ghost writers” to author articles favorable to their drugs. Another New York Times article chronicles the chilling information regarding documents that are before Congress:

The documents show company executives came up with ideas for medical journal articles, titled them, drafted outlines, paid writers to draft the manuscripts, recruited academic authors and identified publications to run the articles – all without disclosing the companies’ roles to journal editors or readers.

Such shenanigans included the pharmaceutical giant Wyeth producing articles supporting the use of drugs such as the hormone combination PremPro, which had already been shown to be dangerous and ineffective. And it’s not just Wyeth (which has just been purchased by Pfizer to make an even scarier giant). Merck (who just bought Schering-Plough) was caught similarly promoting it’s drug Vioxx, which is now off the market due to it’s risk.

Incidentally, this information also was discovered as part of Sen. Grassley’s investigation of drug companies. He’s definitely got his hands full, untangling the breeches of trust between big drug companies, the doctors who (mistakenly or otherwise) prescribe their medications without truthful supportive information, and the public who never seem to leave their doctor’s office without a fistful of prescriptions.

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One Response to “Drug Companies – Foxes in the Henhouse”

  1. on 07 Apr 2009 at 4:40 pm Lorraine Duboys

    Thanks for that information.

    Is there an y petition circulating?

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