Thursday, September 8, 2011

French lawmakers may mandate conflict of interest disclosures

At a time when our own government has stepped back from requiring true transparency about conflicts of interest in medicine, French lawmakers seem to be heading in a much bolder direction. According to Nature Medicine, the French national assembly is considering a bill that would require that conflicts are publicly disclosed by the country's regulatory agencies and made available to consumers.

In other words, instead of relying on the discretion of universities to disclose when their government-funded researchers get financial compensation from drug makers and other companies, as our own National Institutes of Health now does, the French would require their regulatory counterparts to publicly disclose all such conflicts of interest and face monetary sanctions if they don't.

This strikes me as a wonderful idea, since it takes the decision about disclosure out of the hands of academic institutions that are increasingly reliant on industry funding -- see here-- and puts it where it belongs -- in the hands of agencies like the NIH and FDA that use taxpayer money to fund and regulate research for the public good.

As has been widely reported, of course, the NIH recently tacked in the opposite direction under pressure from university lobbyists -- see here. Instead of requiring universities to disclose their faculty's conflicts of interest on a publicly available website, the newly announced rules gives schools the option to conceal financial conflicts of interest, according to Sheldon Krimsky, a professor of ethics at Tufts University School of Medicine.

Amazingly enough, most of France's nonprofit private health insurers appear to support that country's proposed new rules about disclosure. Etienne Caniard, president of Mutualité Française, a federation of these insurers, told Nature Medicine that:

“This proposal will help uncover the sectors where the state has given free rein to the pharmaceutical industry and where it should take its responsibility and regain control, such as continuous medical education,” he says.

Can you imagine the big for-profit health insurers in this country taking a similar stance? Dream on!

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