Sunday, July 13, 2008

Payola and Doctors

I wrote about the cozy relationship between pharmaceutical companies and academics last month but now the subject is heating up in the New York Times.

Here's how it works. Drug and device makers (think: joint replacements, pacemakers, heart stents) pay doctors and academic programs millions of dollars to collaborate in research, write scientific articles that always show the drug or device to be better, and go on speaking tours around the world, convincing doctors to use the product.

Conflict of interest? Of course it is. The defenders will say that they always "disclose" the conflicts. But here is what they mean by "rigorous disclosure policies and federal guidelines".

The speaker or writer simply reports they are a speaker for a certain company: "I have been a consultant for Pfizer, Lilly and Astra-Zenica." End of story. Every educational program I attend has this disclaimer and every speaker has some type of relationship or another. It's like the do not remove tag on your mattress or the small print in a TV ad. It is so ubiquitous, no one cares.

We don't get told what Senator Grassley, who is investigating these relationships, found out. That Dr Alan Schatzberg, the president elect of the American Psychiatric Association, holds $4.8 million stock in a drug development company that he is promoting. That many physicians handsomely supplement their income with speaker fees and these physicians prescribe three times as many prescriptions of the new powerful drugs to children.

Dr. Melissa DelBello, of the University of Cincinnati, received $238,000 to promote the antipsychotic, Seroquel. Dr. Thomas Spencer, Harvard professor, reported earning at least $1 million after being pressed by Mr. Grassley's investigators. The list goes on and on and we all know that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

I saw a multi page report that showed the names and fees paid to orthopedic physicians to research and speak about replacement joints. This multi billion dollar industry can throw a few hundred thousand at each influential orthopedic surgeon and hire a ready made sales force. Hundreds of surgeons from large and small hospitals across the U.S. have been part of this payola. Many were influential surgeons I know.

There are many who defend this corruption and say it is a way to bring "needed drugs to the marketplace." Who better to test and analyze expensive devices than the doctors? What is wrong with paying doctors for their consulting expertise?

When this much money changes hands, when we see that it does affect prescribing and when so much of it is hidden and under the table, it is hard to make a case that it is ethical. The doctors and institutions on the receiving end will scream loud and hard that they have the "interests of patients" in mind. Don't believe it.


Dr. R said...

1 million dollars! All I got is a lousy pen.
Bias is a problem but what is worse is failure to "think outside the box" by only searching for drugs to "treat" bad brain chemistry. Why is there so much mental illness in the first place?
Soon drugs will have some competition from brain pacemakers and the neurosurgeons will be collecting the speaker fees.

Quiact said...

There is a protocol with pharmaceutical research that is not:

The Atrophy Of Objectivity

If I were to rate the corruptive tactics performed by big pharmaceutical companies during my intimate experience with them , the frequent and intentional strategy of implementing fabricated and unreliable results of clinical trials performed by others possibly tops the list.

By this atrophy of the scientific method absent of authenticity that has been known to occur, harm and damage is possibly done to the health of the public.

Most would agree that the science of research should be sound and as aseptic as possible- completely free of deliberate and reckless interference.

However, it appears, money and increased profits can be a catalyst for disregard for human health with the clinical trial process that is largely unregulated.

This is particularly a factor on post-marketing studies of various pharmaceutical companies, as some pharmaceutical corporations seem to be deliberately conducting nothing less than seeding trials- with about a 50 percent tax credit for these trial sponsors.

Trials that exist that are in fact pointless and void of scientific benefit.

Decades ago, clinical trials were conducted at academic settings that focused on the acquisition of knowledge and the completely objective discoveries of drugs and devices to benefit mankind.

Then, in 1980, the Bayh-Dole Act, Public Law 96-517,was created, which allowed for such places with their researchers to profit off of their discoveries that were performed for pharmaceutical companies and others in the past.

Furthermore, such academic institutions were coerced to license patented inventions to those pharmaceutical companies that will then commercialize these discoveries paid for in large part by the taxpayers who funded this research to a degree.

This resulted in the creation of for-profit research trial sites without any academic affiliation that are called Contract Research Organizations.

CROS utilize primarily community patient care clinics whose staff are absent of any research training compared with the former researchers that existed decades ago. They are regulated, so they say, by institutional review boards, or IRBs. Both are for profit and essentially cater to the sponsor of the clinical trial in which all are involved with manipulating.

Because of this structure, the clinical trial investigators of these pharmaceutical sponsored trials are likely novice compared with academic researchers.

This, of course, happens with intent by the sponsor who can and does control all aspects of the clinical trial protocol at the site locations of a clinical trial that the pharmaceutical company structures and even gives the trial the title they want for their marketing purposes.

These quite numerous CROS are in fact for- profit, with some CROs making billions of dollars a year, and this market continues to grow.

The trials conducted at such places again are sponsored by pharmaceutical companies that control and manipulate all aspects of the trial being conducted involving their particular drug chosen to be studied.

Etiology for their deception regarding this manipulation is because the pharmaceutical company that sponsors such a trial is basically creating a marketing tool for this drug of theirs to be studied in this manner.

This coercion is done by various methods of deception in subtle and tacit methods.

As a result, research in this protocol of the sponsor ensures favorable results of the sponsor’s medication that is involved in the clinical trial they clearly own.

These activities are again believed to be absent of true or applied regulation to any degree, and therefore have the autonomy to create whatever they want to benefit the pharmaceutical sponsor.

There likely is a collusive relationship between the sites, the CRO, and the sponsor, as this whole system is planned beforehand by the pharmaceutical sponsor of their clinical trial to again be utilized to increase the market share of the drug studied that they promote.

Guest authorship has been known to be aggressively recruited by sponsors by paying a known opinion leader to sign off on the completed clinical trial.

Furthermore, the pharmaceutical sponsor recruits investigators to be used for this function of what ultimately is a fabricated clinical trial protocol.

The trial manuscript and protocol design is prepared by those employed by the drug company sponsor upon specific direction of this sponsor on how this should be prepared.

The medical program coordinator of a particular sponsored trial is an actual employee of the sponsoring drug company.

This person also may act as the publisher, manuscript version reviewer, and the clinical trial director who works with the drug company’s hired CRO editors whose objectives are to benefit the sponsor.

Typical and ultimate cost of the final manuscript of the trial to the sponsor created by the hired CRO and the recruited ghostwriters exceeds 1000 dollars per page, some have said.

Merck engages in this behavior, which shocked many, as they were always viewed as an ethical pharmaceutical company that always placed patients over profits.

Apparently, this is no longer the case. There are other well known and large pharmaceutical corporations that consider this plan of action standard operating procedures to ensure growth of their drugs.

Further disturbing is that once the creation of the trials is completed, the research paper is often composed with specific directions by the sponsor to writers known again as ghostwriters.

These people are usually not identified and acknowledged by the sponsor, and may not be trained in clinical research overall, as they are simply freelance writers.

One does not need research training or certification in order to perform this function. Rarely do clinical trial ghostwriters question their instructions about their assignment, which is clearly deceptive and undocumented by the pharmaceutical sponsor.

Also, these hired mystery writers are known to make about 100 grand a year performing this deception full time.

This activity removes accountability and authenticity of the fabricated clinical trial even further.

The corruptive act is finally completed by the sponsor hiring again a known thought leader as an author to have their name be placed on the trial, while this hired author likely had absolutely no involvement with the trial, or even reviewing the trial is not asked or required by the hired author, others have said.

To have the trial published, the sponsor has been known to pay an obscure journal, and the sponsor bribes the journal in a few ways, such as the sponsor purchasing from a selected journal thousands of reprints of their study from the journal, for example.

Again, how often this process is performed is unknown, yet frequent enough to create hundreds of such false writers mentioned earlier and progressively growing research sites to receive the support the pharmaceutical industry.

So benefits of pharmaceuticals that are studied in such a malicious way potentially can harm patients and their treatment options along with clear safety risks as a result of this process.

The purchased reprints of the fabricated clinical trial are then bought by the sponsor of the study from the medical journal they hired to publish this trial.

The reprints are eventually distributed to the sponsor’s sales force to share the content with prescribers, with the sales force completely unaware about this manipulation that has happened with such a trial that benefits the drug they promote for their employer.

As a bonus, the sponsor may agree to pay the chosen medical journal to advertise their products to be placed in this journal as well.

Such misconduct discussed so far impedes research and the scientific method with frightening ethical and harmful concerns, as stated previously.

If so, our health care treatment options with drugs that are claimed to have benefits that are absent have now become unreliable in large part due to such corruptive situations.

Not to mention the absence of objectivity that has been intentionally eliminated with trials produced in this way.

More now than ever, meds are removed from the market or are given black box warnings due to the damaging effects of drugs approved by the FDA. We as citizens need to dig deep and ask why this is happening.

Transparency and disclosure needs to happen with the pharmaceutical industry for reasons such as this as well as many others, in order to correct what we have historically relied upon for conclusive proof, which is the scientific method.

More importantly, research should be conducted in a way that the sponsor cannot in any way interfere in such ways described in this article, which would require independent clinical trial sites with no involvement from the maker of the drug studied in a clinical trial.

And clearly, regulation has to be enforced not selectively, but in a complete fashion regarding such matters.
Public awareness would be a catalyst for this to occur, after initially experiencing a state of total disbelief that such operations actually are conducted by such people, of course.

We can no longer be dependent on others for our optimal health.

Knowledge is power, and is also possibly a lifesaver.

“Ethics and Science need to shake hands.” ……. Richard Cabot

Dan Abshear

Author’s note: What has been written was based upon information and belief.

Published on:

Tick Paralysis

 We spotted a Coyote in our backyard, laying near some outdoor lawn chairs.  When we approached she did not jump up and run, as would be...