Bringing "together politicians and academics on different ends of the political spectrum to participate in forums on health policy," with the goal of reforming "the nation's healthcare system" sounds like a good idea. But the organizer is the drug company Pfizer, through its public affairs agency, Spectrum Science Communications.
"Susan Finston of the Institute for Policy Innovation, a conservative research group based in Texas, is just the sort of opinion maker coveted by the drug industry," writes Philip Shenon. "In an opinion article in The Financial Times on Oct. 25, she called for patent protection in poor countries for drugs and biotechnology products.
"Earlier this month," writes Jennifer Washburn, "Sheffield University in Britain offered $252,000 to one of its senior medical professors, Aubrey Blumsohn. According to a copy of a proposed settlement released by Blumsohn, the university promised to pay him if he would agree to leave his post and not make 'any detrimental or derogatory statements' about Sheffield or its employees. For several years, Blumsohn had been complaining of scientific misconduct.
"Many of the articles that appear in scientific journals under the byline of prominent academics are actually written by ghostwriters in the pay of drug companies." Used by doctors "to guide their care of patients," these "seemingly objective articles ... are often part of a marketing campaign." The New England Journal of Medicine recently revealed that a 2000 article on Vioxx "omitted information about heart attacks among patients taking the drug.
Professor Andrew Herx-heimer, emeritus fellow at the UK Cochrane Centre, told the British Medical Journal that changes to the British drug industry's voluntary code of practice were minimal. "This is very competent window dressing but not much has changed at all," he said.
Following up on a story that first surfaced in the gossip pages of the New York Daily News, Michael Hiltzik examines the details of a bizarre scheme aimed at scaring U.S. citizens away from importing cheap drugs from Canada.
"A few individuals in government expressing concern can't equal the marketing power of large companies," said a former U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency official, regarding stimulants prescribed for children with "attention deficit hyperactivity disorder" (ADHD). Leading ADHD researcher Dr. William Pelham says McNeil Pharmaceuticals, which manufactures the stimulant Concerta, uses "misleading" marketing campaigns and has pressured Pelham to "water down" his writing.
Last December, researchers involved with studying the use of antidepressants in children faced questions as federal regulators looked into evidence that the drugs increased suicide risks. The researchers tried "for months to gather all the test data," writes Barry Meier, but "could get only pieces of that information. Some drug companies refused to turn over data to the group, even though these researchers had helped come up with it. ...