The corruption of medical research by industry money

Dr. Marcia Angell, MD. Is the first woman to serve as Editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. In my view, she is also one of the most courageous editors for pointing out the problem between industry money and medical research.  The Journal is one of most prestigious medical journals in the country. In August of this year she wrote and editorial she titled Is Academic Medicine For Sale? The Journal has a strict disclosure policy about conflicts of interest involving articles the publish. She says:

"This policy is analogous to the requirement that judges recuse themselves from hearing cases if they have financial ties to a litigant. Just as a judge’s disclosure would not be sufficiently reassuring to the other side in a court case, so we believe that a policy of caveat emptor is not enough for readers who depend upon the opinion of editorialist."

She has been quoted in saying about this problem:

"It is one more indication of the widespread corruption of the medical profession by industry money."

She notes that ties between clinical researchers and industry include not just grant money, but a host of other financial arrangements. These include acting as consultant to a company whose products they are studying as well as being on advisory boards or speakers bureaus and even patent and royalty arrangements.

We have read about company’s writing ghostwritten articles for a prominent author to sign in exchange for payment. We have seen repeated falsification of research data to favor a company product by paid researchers. We have seen doctors, scientists and researchers given expensive gifts and trips to luxurious places. Many have even been given an equity interest in the company whose products they are favorably reporting about.

In my own trial experience, I cross examined two very nationally prominent physicians about the articles they had published in prominent medical journals and for their medical talks at medical seminars promoting the use of a medicine for children which had disastrous side effects under particular circumstances because they had undisclosed financial ties to the company that made the product. They had equity interests in the company. They had stock options. They were paid handsomely for their promotion and they had many financial incentives to promote this product over other competitors because of their standing in this field of medicine. None of this was disclosed by either of them in connection with these activities. I had obtained access to this information and had the pleasure of cross examining them in court. The most prominent of the two was so upset he interrupted my cross examination to tell the judge needed to leave  right then in order to make a flight out of town and said he had to leave. This was greeted by great amusement by the jurors and by the judge who said he needed to stay until I was finished. In fact, he was already finished in the eyes of the jury who dismissed both of these men as bought and paid for experts.

Dr. Angell’s editorial is right on target. The degree of corruption of what should be objective evaluation of medicines and treatment is concerning. I might also add, that the same concern exists regarding the "industry" of paid experts in cases. Her observations are worth reading and remembering.

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