BMJ 2011; 342:d2929 doi: 10.1136/bmj.d2929 (Published 10 May 2011)
Cite this as: BMJ 2011; 342:d2929
Many US medical associations and disease awareness groups depend heavily on funding by drug manufacturers
+ Author Affiliations
Many medical societies and non-profit disease awareness organisations in the United States receive much of their funding from drug and device manufacturers, show documents recently released to the US senator Charles Grassley.
Senator Grassley, a Republican of Iowa, asked for financial information in December 2009 from 33 professional associations and groups that conduct research or promote disease awareness.
Among the organisations responding to Senator Grassley’s request was the American Medical Association, which reported that 16 drug, device, and communications companies donated nearly $5m (£3.1m; €3.5m) in 2007 for “continuing medical education” programmes and “communications conferences.”
Large donations to the association included $499 000 from Takeda Pharmaceutical Company, which makes the blockbuster antidiabetes drug pioglitazone, to conduct a continuing medical education programme on diabetes. Teva Neuroscience, maker of rasagiline, a treatment for Parkinson’s disease, gave $450 000 for a programme on Parkinson’s disease; and Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, a formulation of the painkiller oxycodone, donated $212 000 for a programme on pain management.
The online investigative news organisation ProPublica (www.propublica.org), which scrutinised the documents received by Senator Grassley, says that manufacturers provided more than half of the total funding of the North American Spine Society in 2009, nearly half the funding of the Heart Rhythm Society in 2010, and more than 40% of the funding of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology in 2008.
Many organisations issue professional recommendations and guidelines on drugs and devices manufactured by the companies that fund the organisation. For example, the Heart Rhythm Society issues guidelines on drugs, catheters, pacemakers, and implantable defibrillators used for rhythm disturbances. A ProPublica report says that the device manufacturers Medtronic, Boston Scientific, and St Jude Medical gave the society $4m in 2010. Twelve of the society’s 18 directors also received undisclosed amounts of funding from the companies.
Senator Grassley told ProPublica, “If a group gets millions [of dollars] from a company that makes a product [prescribed] by its members, it is reasonable to wonder whether the guidance it offers on treatments would benefit that company.”
ProPublica reported that Bruce Wilkoff, the incoming president of the Heart Rhythm Society, said, “We either get out of the business or we manage these relationships. That’s what we’ve chosen to do.”
Jerome Hoffman, professor of emergency medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and an expert on industry influence in medicine, told the BMJ, “It’s unclear just what ‘business’ [Dr Wilkoff] is referring to, but the business of finding non-conflicted experts to write evidence based guidelines that serve the public in no way requires taking industry largesse.
“The very notion of ‘managing’ such relationships is . . . self serving. We need to ask what purpose medical societies should serve, and if the answer has anything to do with promoting the public health we should insist that they stop, consciously or otherwise, serving a very separate master.”
The American Medical Association did not respond to an inquiry by the BMJ regarding the reports.
Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d2929