Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Connect the dots between medical groups and pharm and medical device industry

On Saturday, The Boston Globe ran a front-page story about how three medical groups have threatened to pull their annual meetings out of Boston if the state of Massachusetts restricts drug and medical device promotions at medical meetings and requires the industry to publicly disclose the money it gives to medical groups and prominent physicians in research, consulting and educational fees. What the article neglected to mention was that all three of the medical societies named in the article -- The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, the American Society of Gene Therapy and the Heart Rhythm Society -- have received major funding from the pharmaceutical and medical device industry over the years.

Hmmm...could it be that the pharmaceutical and medical device industry had something to do with these rather unsubtle threats?

Spokespeople for two of the groups quoted in The Globe article said they were concerned that the proposed guidelines won't allow presentations by drug company employees at meetings in Massachusetts. According to local public health officials, that's simply not true. The regulations do allow company scientists to present at meetings but the presentations must be objective and cannot be used to flagrantly promote company's products. What a marvelous concept -- and a major departure from business as usual.

One need only visit the medical groups' websites to see the extent of industry funding behind these groups. In the March 2008 annual meeting program of the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology, for example, the list of commercial supporters filled a full page, ranging from pharm companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Schering Plough and AstroZenica to biotechs like Sepracor, Genentech and Teva Specialty.

Likewise, the Heart Rhythm Society's list of supporters for its May 2008 meeting in San Francisco includes all the major makers of cardiac medical devices: Medtronic, Boston Scientific and sanofi aventis (labeled Diamond Level sponsors), Boehringer Ingelheim (an Emerald Level Sponsor) and Biosense Webster, a subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson (alas only Ruby Level).

Similarly, the American Society of Gene Therapy listed Genzyme as its "partner" for its annual meeting last May in Boston and 15 biotech and medical device companies as major contributors and patrons.

So if The Boston Globe really wanted to do its homework, it could ask these three medical groups just how much money all this corporate sponsorship translates into every year and what kind of pressure the industry put on them to howl about regulations that were, by the way, designed to protect consumers.


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