More MS news articles for May 2000

Respected journal says conflicts of interest endanger research

May 18, 2000
Web posted at: 12:54 PM EDT (1654 GMT)

(AP) -- The editor of one of the world's premier medical journals has written a withering critique of the research system, saying science is being compromised by the growing influence of industry money.

Dr. Marcia Angell, editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, joins a wave of critics who say an explosion of research funding from drug and medical-equipment makers has added commercial concerns to the scientific process.

"When the boundaries between industry and academic medicine become as blurred as they are now, the business goals of industry influence the mission of medical schools in multiple ways," she cautioned.

She raised the questions in today's issue of the journal in an editorial headlined "Is Academic Medicine for Sale?" The Boston-based journal is widely regarded as medicine's most distinguished periodical.

Angell, the journal's outgoing editor, acknowledged that rising research funding from biotechnology and drug companies has helped lead to dramatic advances against many diseases in recent years.

At the same time, she said, medical schools have struck a "Faustian bargain" with industry.

She said industry representatives are lavishing giveaway products, other gifts and trips on doctors. She said speaking and consulting fees, along with other compensation, are subtly swaying researchers toward more favorable findings on products of companies making the payments.

She said researchers may also be focusing on trivial -- but marketable -- differences between similar drugs.

As a remedy, she said major medical schools should adopt a strong, common code for conflicts of interest, banning some writing and speaking arrangements and stock ownership in companies making the products under study. She said drug companies should not promote products and offer gifts to students and doctors at teaching hospitals. And she suggested that researchers' consulting income could go into a common research pool.

Michael Werner, a lawyer for the Washington-based Biotechnology Industry Organization, said disclosure of financial ties and government regulation sufficiently protect the public. He said companies have every reason to shun poor research because of liability and the bad publicity that could result from a recall.

Dr. Jeffrey Drazen, an asthma researcher at Brigham and Women's Hospital, has been named to replace Angell, probably later this year.

Drazen's own ties to the drug industry came under scrutiny February 24 when the journal disclosed that it had published 19 articles on drug treatments without disclosing the authors' industry links. One of the authors was Drazen, who had accepted grants or an advisory role at eight companies.