More MS news articles for October 1999

Medical journal's conflicts alleged articles' authors had drug-company ties

Published Thursday, October 21, 1999, in the San Jose Mercury News

Los Angeles Times

The New England Journal of Medicine -- the world's top-ranked medical journal and a leading voice in biomedical ethics -- apparently has violated its own ethics policy numerous times in the last three years, publishing articles by researchers with drug company ties and not disclosing the potential conflicts of interest.

In an analysis of 36 ``drug therapy'' review articles since 1997, the Los Angeles Times has identified eight articles by researchers with undisclosed financial links to drug companies that marketed treatments evaluated in the articles.

The journal's interim editor-in-chief, Dr. Marcia Angell, said Wednesday that the journal's practices were at odds with its guidelines on financial conflicts of interest.

``We're going to try to do the right thing and bring our practice into conformity with our policy. . . . There was a problem with the (drug therapy) series. There was a misinterpretation of exactly what our policy was,'' Angell said.

Among the articles questioned in the drug therapy series was a 1997 review of multiple sclerosis treatments. The lead author, Dr. Richard A. Rudick of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, received research funds, speaking fees and travel expenses from three drug companies whose treatments were discussed in the article, he said in an interview.

In another instance, the sole author of a 1998 review of breast cancer treatments, Dr. Gabriel N. Hortobagyi of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, said he had received consulting fees, research funds and speaking fees from multiple companies that make drugs assessed in his article.

Publication of those articles and several others goes against the journal's restrictive conflict-of-interest policy: It ``prohibits editorialists and authors of review articles from having any financial connection with a company that benefits from a drug or device discussed in the editorial or review article.''

The Times' analysis was conducted after reporting last month that the journal ran a review of hair-loss treatments by a researcher with undisclosed financial ties to the companies that market the popular drugs Rogaine and Propecia. Dr. Vera H. Price, a dermatology professor at the University of California-San Francisco, had served as a consultant to Pharmacia & Upjohn and Merck & Co. just before writing the review, and her research has been funded by the companies.