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April 30, 2007

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Integrity in Science Watch

Week of 04/30/2007

No Decline in Drug Industry Gifts to Physicians

Mass marketing campaigns by drug and device makers that utilize gifts, free samples and free meals still reach more than nine in ten practicing physicians, a new survey shows. Among the 1,662 physicians who responded to the Boston-based Institute for Health Policy survey in late 2003 and early 2004, 94 percent reported some type of relationship with the pharmaceutical industry – usually in the form of free food or drug samples, which, in previous studies, were found to influence physician prescribing practices. More than a third received drug company funding to attend professional meetings or continuing medical education seminars, which are a requirement of continued licensing in most states. And more than a quarter were paid as industry consultants or lecturers or for registering their patients in clinical trials.

In 2002, the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association passed voluntary codes of conduct in an attempt to rein in excessive marketing. The results of the new survey seem to suggest those codes had little impact. “It's going to be up to doctors to clean up their act," Columbia University professor David Rothman told the Wall Street Journal(subscription required). His non-profit Institute on Medicine as a Profession funded the study.

Meanwhile, the movement to require the drug industry to disclose its gifts and grants to physicians is gathering steam. Five states and the District of Columbia have passed laws requiring disclosure. Vermont and Minnesota make those disclosures publicly available. However, a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found those disclosures “incomplete” and of limited usefulness, and called for “more stringent laws with clear mechanisms for enforcement.” Legislation pending in New York that is backed by the state AARP chapter would require companies to report gifts greater than $75.

Anti-Allergy Activists Fail to Disclose Patents, Corporate Ties in Journal

A report in the latest Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology that claims there is a “growing national problem” of food allergy fatalities failed to disclose the conflicts of interest of two of its authors. The report, which came in the form of a letter to the editor, documented 31 deaths from anaphylaxis in the past five years, the majority of which came from peanut reactions. Co-author Hugh A. Sampson of Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York failed to disclose his numerous patents in the field, including one for modifying proteins to reduce allergenic reactions. Co-author Ann Muńoz-Furlong, the founder of the non-profit Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), has received grants from the Peanut Foundation, an arm of the industry’s trade group. Sampson, whose patents have been licensed to Monsanto, is also the medical director of FAAN, whose website is supported by Kraft Foods.

New Communication Policy Muzzles Science Agencies, Advocates Say

A new Commerce Department rule limiting scientists’ right to speak is drawing fire from advocacy groups. The policy, which governs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, limits scientists when talking to the media to their official duties only; it also requires scientists to secure permission before speaking about “fundamental research.” If a scientist wishes to offer unofficial comments to the press, they must give 14 days advance notice to their managers and submit written materials for departmental review. The Union of Concerned Scientists and the Government Accountability Project blasted the policy as “unconstitutional and unnecessarily overbroad.”

FDA Questions Eli Lilly on Zyprexa

The New York Times reports that the FDA will examine whether Eli Lilly, the maker of the controversial antipsychotic Zyprexa, withheld information about the negative side effects of the drug. The company’s clinical trials conducted in 2000 showed patients were three times more likely to have high blood sugar as those not taking Zyprexa. Company data submitted to the FDA showed almost no difference in blood sugar. An FDA spokesperson told the Times that officials have not decided if the agency will take action against Lilly, which faces thousands of lawsuits over the drug.

Odds and Ends

The Financial Times reports one of Paul Wolfowitz’s hand-picked deputies has been caught rewriting a World Bank strategy paper to downplay the threat of climate change . . . The EPA’s acting Inspector General Bill Roderick plans to lay off 60 auditors, criminal investigators, and senior program analysts, and then give himself a $15,000 raise, Reuters reports . . . According to the latest Harris Poll, U.S. adults are less likely to believe human activity is causing global warming than the rest of the world’s population.

Cheers and Jeers

  • Cheer: To Sen. Jeff Bingaman for his last-minute efforts to include strong conflict-of-interest language in legislation reauthorizing the Food and Drug Administration’s user fees, which is up for a vote this week.
  • Jeer: To the Times Record News for only mentioning Patrick J. Michaels association with Cato Institute, but not disclosing Michaels' well-established ties to industry groups including the German Coal Mining Association, Edison Electric Institute, Cyprus Minerals Co., Western Fuels Association and Intermountain Rural Electric Association.


Last week’s Integrity in Science Watch gave the incorrect first name for the director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. He is David Schwartz.